Rocketman, the musical biopic chronicling the life and career of Sir Elton John, has already proven itself to be a box office success since it landed in theatres just under two weeks ago, but the love for the film doesn’t seem to be universal. Earlier this week, Samoa’s government banned the film from being screened within the country’s borders due to its explicit depictions of queer love.
Leiataua Niuapu Faaui, a censorship representative for the Samoan government, stated that the ban comes from the film clashing with the country’s “culture and our Christian beliefs,” by featuring “acts that are not good for public viewing and against the law.” This isn’t the first time that Samoa has banned a film due to wanting to restrict citizens from expressions of homosexuality, with 2008’s Milk receiving a similar treatment—though curiously, last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody had no problem making it through the censors.
Faaui pointing toward the religious and legal ideals of the country as the reason for the film’s banning are no exaggeration – a whopping 97% of Samoa’s population identifies as Christian, with sodomy becoming a criminalized offense punishable by up to 7 years in prison back in 2013.
Despite the film’s ban over violations of the country’s dominant Christian values, a surprisingly open and progressive approach to gender expression exists within the Samoan population, with the fa’afafine demographic – those assigned male at birth but express themselves through traditionally-feminine roles and presentation – being officially recognized as a “third gender” by the Samoan government. Rocketman’s censorship, which stands at odds with the country’s apparent embrace of fa’afafines, has prompted a number of LGBT activists to speak up.
“Fa’afafines are culturally accepted. Our culture is based on respect and inclusive[ness] – the censorship of this film means that we don’t accept elements of who they are, that’s just ignorant and not based on the reality of how we live,” claimed Samoan cultural critic Toleafoa Chris Solomona. A representative for the International LGBTI Association called out the hypocrisy of the ban for being a selective morality issue,” citing it as just the latest example of “the Church reaching into controlling peoples perception by banning the celebration of art.”
Though Samoa’s outright banning of Rocketman is the most egregious example of the censorship that the film has prompted, it’s not the first. Rocketman’s Russian distributor removed all scenes featuring heavy drug use or queer expressions of love from the film, prompting Elton John himself to lament the censorship as 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”:
Well said, Sir Elton.