Asia-Pacific

'Not good for public viewing': Rocketman biopic banned in Samoa

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Samoa has banned the blockbuster film Rocketman for depicting gay sex, which remains illegal in the Pacific island nation.

Censored in Russia - now completely banned in Samoa. Rocketman a film starring Welshman Taron Egerton as a young Elton John, depicts the British musician's early life and has been well received by critics and audiences alike. 

But Samoa's Principal Censor Leiataua Niuapu confirmed the ban to local media this week, saying the film contained too many scenes that were "not good for public viewing".

Niuapu told the Samoa Observer that the movie "violates laws against same-sex marriage and doesn't go well with cultural and Christian beliefs here".

"It's a good story, in that it's about an individual trying to move on in life," he said.

"He (Elton John) went through a difficult family life and managed to move on and become very successful. But there are acts that are not good for public viewing and against the law."

Rocketman, Taron Egerton
Taron Egerton stars as Elton John in ‘Rocketman’.
Paramount Pictures

Samoa is a devoutly Christian nation and gay sex can attract jail terms of up to seven years, according to London-based lobby group Human Dignity Trust, although it notes authorities do not actively enforce the laws.

The country is also well known for its acceptance of fa'afafines - men who dress as women and adopt female mannerisms - known locally as the third sex.

"This censorship is yet another way for moral seekers to bash a few people for no good reason," Tuisina Ymania Brown, a Samoan fa'afafine who is co-secretary of Geneva-based rights group ILGA.

She said fa'afafines were part of Samoa's cultural fabric and the "Rocketman" ban was a contradiction of the tolerance they enjoyed.

"Now are we saying that art that celebrates fa'afafines are not allowed?" she told Newsline Samoa.

"The power of the church has now reached into censoring the celebration of art. There are more important issues we should focus on, such as gender-based violence (and the) church paying taxes."

Samoa also banned the 2009 movie Milk about pioneering US gay activist Harvey Milk, but last year's Bohemian Rhapsody was screened without attracting any complaints.

"Rocketman" UK Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals
Elton John and David Furnish attends UK Premiere of "Rocketman" at the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square, London,
WireImage

In Russia, scenes of gay sex scene and drug-taking were cut from Rocketman, prompting condemnation from Elton John and the stars of the movie.

Russia has a dire record on LGBT rights and a controversial law bans the promotion of "non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors, though it is not clear why this would apply to the 18-rated film.

Film critic Anton Dolin wrote on his Facebook page that all the sex or kissing scenes had been cut out, adding that it had been  "very obvious" cuts had been made.

Amnesty International called the censorship of the film "an insult for the rights of LGBTI people." 

In a statement, it said the editing of the film was an example of Russia's anti-gay laws "undercutting freedom of expression and encouraging homophobia in Russia."

Other films that included gay scenes, including the recent biopic about British rock star Freddy Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody, were shown in Russian cinemas. 

Elton John is popular in Russia, where he first performed during the Soviet era in 1979. 

But he has been a vocal critic of Russia's anti-gay laws.

Rocketman premiered on May 16 at the Cannes film festival where it received a standing ovation.   

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