Musical biopics: the life and times of an icon, set to a catchy soundtrack – what could be better, when celebrating a legend? Singing along to our favourite songs while getting a real glimpse into the musicians past, can be an extremely powerful experience for fans and overall music lovers alike. Seeing the life of someone who has made such a huge impact on the music world being re-told, with beautiful cinematography to accompany the often heart wrenching stories allows fans a very intimate experience with an inspiring star. However, it must be noted that cinematic biopics are films, not documentaries – as stated by certain directors called out on ‘bending the truth’ – and sometimes what we see, despite fractions of the truth – are twisted to fit a certain narrative which is ‘accessible’ to mainstream Hollywood blockbuster. This is where things start to get problematic.
With the release of ‘Rocketman’, a biopic centered on Elton John, these issues are once again put into the spotlight. Although a different backlash than Freddie Mercury’s (sort of) biopic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘, ‘Rocketman’ furthers awareness on the glaring issue that face these biopics – which is, unfortunately, full blown homophobia. The former, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘ – is flawed in many ways, as the re-telling of Freddie Mercury’s story is not only missing truths, but these truths were replaced with ‘alternative truths’ in order to appeal to a mainstream audience. This ranges from how the band came together, to their non-existent break up ‘until Live Aid brought them back together‘, and even an EMI executive who rejected Queen as they began to experiment with a new sound – an EMI executive that never existed. The most obvious issue was not only the absence of certain truths, but the portrayal of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. With a narrative that tends to completely ignore Freddie Mercury’s bisexuality, and instead twist the narrative to focus on his ‘straight‘ relationship with his ex-wife and pushing the ‘tragic queer’ trope, the films creators decided that it would be best to leave out the ‘nitty-gritty’ details of Mercury’s life – all to keep the age restriction to PG-13, allowing a wider range of audiences to attend the film
‘Rocketman’ however, has been approached differently – with an R Rating, the filmmakers have apparently approached the depiction of his life more accurately, with same-sex scenes sticking to their truths – without a need to pander to the mainstream hollywood blockbuster audiences out of fear of homophobic backlash. I have not seen the film, so I don’t have a place to comment on the content. However, what I am able to comment on is the news regarding Rocketman’s censorship in Russia. In 2013, Vladimir Putin passed a law requiring the censorship of what is labelled ‘homosexual propaganda’. Although the film is available in Russian cinemas, certain scenes of the film have been edited in order to abide by the homophobic provision. According to an Amnesty International report, any scene that depicts same-sex relationships in any manner have been edited out. Even a title card depicting Elton John and his husband (and the fact that they are raising children) was replaced with a statement regarding John’s charity work.
These two films have brought to public attention the homophobia that still runs rampant in the film industry (and in general), and the issue of LGBTQ+ discrimination is clearly highlighted by Russia’s censorship. A joint statement released by Rocketman filmmakers and Elton John reads:
“We reject in the strongest possible terms the decision to pander to local laws and censor Rocketman for the Russian market, a move we were unaware of until today. Paramount Pictures have been brave and bold partners in allowing us to create a film which is a true representation of Elton’s extraordinary life, warts and all. That the local distributor has edited out certain scenes, denying the audience the opportunity to see the film as it was intended is a sad reflection of the divided world we still live in and how it can still be so cruelly unaccepting of the love between two people. We believe in building bridges and open dialogue, and will continue to push for the breaking down of barriers until all people are heard equally across the world.”
LGBTQ+ discrimination is very real, and very dangerous. In order to tackle these issues, it’s important to remember – we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge; the media needs to be held accountable for the narratives they push, as this not only affects people’s attitudes – most importantly, it directly affects people’s lives.
Written by Jenna Dreisenstock