“Rocketman,” the acclaimed musical biopic about Elton John, is making headlines again this week as Delta Air Lines defends itself against accusations of showing straight-washed, edited versions of its inflight movies.
The new controversy began on Tuesday, when an outcry sprang up on social media after Entertainment Weekly’s digital director Shana Naomi Krochma went on Twitter to scold the airline for removing most of the film’s gay content.
“On @Delta today [I] discovered that #Rocketman is stripped of almost every gay reference or scene that [Elton John] fought to keep in the film’s mainstream release, including a simple chaste kiss,” Krochna tweeted.
She followed up with a second tweet which questioned the airline’s decision to edit out same-sex love scenes while leaving in scenes of domestic violence.
“What does it say that the edit left in a scene of John Reid assaulting Elton but removed any evidence of intimacy between them or for that matter Elton and any man? What is that saying is OK?”
“Rocketman,” which deals with the early years of John’s musical career and his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, has been widely praised for its refusal to shy away from the subject of the singer’s sexuality. The film made news earlier this year when an outcry emerged over pre-release rumors that Paramount Studios had demanded director Dexter Fletcher and producer Matthew Vaughn remove a nude sex scene between actors Taron Egerton and Richard Madden, who portrayed John and Reid, respectively, in the film. Fletcher has denied that the studio made such a demand.
It’s the second time this week Delta has come under fire for removing LGBT content from its inflight movies. On Sunday, actress-turned-director Olivia Wilde blasted the airline for cutting a pivotal same-sex love scene in her film, “Booksmart.”
Responding to a fan on Twitter who had complained about the missing scene, Wilde tweeted, “This is truly a bummer. There is no nudity in this scene. What makes it too obscene for airplane viewing?”
Later that evening, at the Motion Picture Academy’s 11th Annual Governors’ Awards in Los Angeles, she told Variety, “I don’t understand it. There’s censorship, airline to airline, of films, which there must be some kind of governing board to determine. We rate it a certain way. If it’s not X-rated, surely it’s acceptable on an airplane.”
She added, “There’s insane violence of bodies being smashed in half and yet a love scene between two women is censored from the film. It’s such an integral part of this character’s journey. I don’t understand it. My heart just broke. I’m trying to get to the bottom of it; I want people to experience the entire film.”
Then, on Tuesday, Wilde complained on Twitter, “I finally had the chance to watch an edited version of Booksmart on a flight to see exactly what had been censored. Turns out some airlines work with a third party company that edits the movie based on what they deem inappropriate. Which, in our case, is … female sexuality?”
In a lengthy thread, she called out other specific edits made to the film, such as removing or muting the words “vagina” and “genitals,” removing dialogue about masturbation and UTIs, and removing a scene that featured two naked female dolls. The tweets never referenced Delta by name, though many followers and fans were quick to do so in their replies and retweets.
Wilde asked, “What message is this sending to viewers and especially to women? That their bodies are obscene? That their sexuality is shameful?” She went on to add, “ I urge every airline, especially those who pride themselves on inclusivity, to stop working with this third party company, and trust the parental advisory warning to allow viewers to opt out if they choose.”
Delta, which has a long history of commitment to supporting the LGBT community, received similar criticism in 2016, when the in-flight version of Todd Haynes’ Oscar-nominated “Carol” removed a kiss between actresses Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
On Thursday, the airline issued a statement explaining that a third-party company is contracted to provide its own edit of the movie along with the unedited version. If the unedited version contains content that does not meet Delta’s guidelines, the third party’s version is used instead, whether or not parts of the film that don’t violate the guidelines have also been removed.
The airline’s statement said, “Delta’s content parameters do not in any way ask for the removal of homosexual content” from its in-flight movies. We value diversity and inclusion as core to our culture and our mission and will review our processes to ensure edited video content doesn’t conflict with these values.”
No word on whether the unedited versions of “Rocketman” or “Booksmart” will be now made available on Delta flights.