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Cinema not surprised by Rocketman rejection

Apollo Cinemas Technical Specialist, Simon Kenchington, is not surprised that the Elton John biopic, Rocketman, has been rejected by the Samoa Censorship Board because of its homosexual content. 

Despite scheduling the film to play this week, the Cinema had to cancel showings of Rocketman after the Principal Censor rejected.

Mr. Kenchington watched the film for the first time alongside the Censors last week. 

He said when they ordered Rocketman, he assumed the Censors would give it a particularly high film classification.

But when he finally saw the film, he realised rejection was likely.  

“I was expecting to cut out scenes, but then when I saw the movie, I began thinking there is a chance we might have to cancel this,” Mr. Kenchington said.

In his experience, films depicting homosexual activities typically receive very high ratings from the Censorship board, like R18 or R21. The Cinema is also directed to cut out or black out scenes, which show homosexual sex or intimacy.

In the case of 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Mr. Kenchington said the scenes depicting homosexual activity were few enough to avoid rejection, though some scenes were censored and it received an R rating. 

But in Rocketman, the overall theme of the film was too much for the Censor to ignore.

“It was seen to be promoting homosexual marriage,” Mr. Kenchington said.

“The scene [the censor] mentioned is at the end, showing Elton John now. Here he is, happily married to a man and the Censor mentioned that is a scene that was something we shouldn’t be showing people. I am not too surprised. If it’s a subject that is illegal in Samoa, then it is not something we should be sharing I guess.”

The Crimes Act 2013 criminalises sex between men with a penalty of up to five years in prison, or seven years if “the act of sodomy is committed on a male, and at the time of the act that male is under the age of 16 years and the offender is of or over the age of 21 years".

Attempts to commit sodomy are also liable for a five year term in prison. Same sex marriage is illegal, but foreign same sex marriages are recognised. 

Violent films such as recent release John Wick 3 do not meet the standard for rejection. The threshold is explicit sexual violence and/or promotion of sexual violence.

“It does seem like a double standard,” Mr. Kenchington said.

“Maybe religious beliefs are prioritised higher than violence, I guess. I am not sure if that’s the right thing to do or not, but it seems to be a higher priority.”

Manager Arnold Dulguine said the Censorship Board advised the Cinema they have the option to appeal the decision in the Courts. 

That call is up to the owners, but he said it might be a waste of time. 

However, he doesn’t necessarily agree the film should have been censored because most audience members will have seen content like the film depicts online and elsewhere, he said.

“The government has got to be seen to be standing up for the law and the religious beliefs,” Mr Kenchington suggested.

“In some ways they have got to be stricter than maybe necessary just to show that they are doing something about it and upholding the law.”

Censorship in Samoa is based on the Ministry of Justice, Courts and Administration’s classification guide.

The list includes explicit sexual activity, demeaning sexual acts, promotion of sex with underage people, and promotion of sexual crimes.

There are also restrictions on the promotion of or instruction in drug use or manufacture, and on material that is offensive to religions. 

Bringing Rocketman to Samoa and have it rejected by the censor is a costly exercise. Mr Dulguine said freight costs more than T$500, customs and duty taxes costs approximately T$200, and the censor’s fee is $56.28. Apollo Cinema won’t be making any of that in takings, so will make a loss on the film.

Mr Kenchington said it can be hard to predict if a film will be rejected, because careful film regulations mean cinemas cannot watch the films before they order them.

And when the film does arrive in Samoa, there are strict rules about how many screenings it can play.

“They don’t just let us watch it whenever we like, so pretty much the first time we see it is when the censor sees it,” he said.

Bohemian Rhapsody was more about the music, whereas this is solely about his life. And your sexuality is a massive part of your life, basically.”

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