Delta to restore gay scenes to in-flight films ‘Rocketman’ and ‘Booksmart’ after censorship outcry

Delta Air Lines said it will put new versions of in-flight movies on its flights with certain scenes restored, after facing criticism for censorship in edited versions of the films.

“The studio has agreed to provide a special Delta edit that retains the LGBTQ+ love scenes in both Booksmart and Rocketman that will be on our flights as soon as possible,” Delta said in a written statement late Friday.

The airline came under fire this week for editing of free in-flight movies, including censoring of a lesbian love scene.

Passengers said on Twitter that scenes of movies including the Elton John biopic “Rocketman” and coming-of-age comedy “Booksmart” have been edited to remove gay scenes including a chaste kiss between two men.

In its statement, Delta said: “Currently, we have Gentleman Jack, Imagine Me and You, and Moonlight onboard and countless content in the past that clearly shows it is not our practice to omit LGBTQ+ love scenes.”

“We are immediately putting a new process in place for managing content available through Delta’s in-flight entertainment,” Delta said. 

The airline had already promised in 2017 to not remove such content after earlier criticism of censored versions of “Carol” and “Bad Moms,” according to an Out story

"Delta has committed to not showing a film at all when an edited version is required but goes beyond omitting explicit material to remove scenes that reflect the diversity of our employees and customers," a Delta spokesperson told Out at the time. 

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 29: Olivia Wilde speaks onstage at the Olivia Wilde Rising Star Director Award and "Booksmart" Q&A during the 22nd SCAD Savannah Film Festival on October 29, 2019 at Trustees Theater in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD)
Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SCAD

Olivia Wilde, who directed “Booksmart,” took to Twitter this week to criticize airlines including Delta for the editing of the film. She said swear words and a male character imitating a sex act with a microphone stayed in but a reference to “vagina” was cut. She also spoke about the situation at the recent SCAD Savannah Film Festival. 

“I’m just curious what a woman is supposed to take from that. That it’s an obscenity? That it’s inappropriate?” Wilde said at a recent SCAD panel discussion.  

She was also upset that a lesbian love scene was snipped: “It might suggest to you that women, I don’t know, have bodies or can experience pleasure, or deserve it.”

(Wilde recently played former Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs in the upcoming Clint Eastwood film “Richard Jewell.”)

Entertainment Weekly digital director Shana Krochmal also noticed the changes in the Elton John biopic “Rocketman,” noting that almost every gay reference or scene” had disappeared from the original one.  

On the AJC Radio & TV Talk Facebook page, a reader Amber Meerbott Silfies said she watched “Rocketman” last month on Delta and “it became pretty obvious quickly that it was very sanitized. And made some of the plot hard to follow.”

A similar controversy erupted in the past over editing of the 2015 Cate Blanchett romantic drama “Carol” for in-flight watching.

When passengers are watching an in-flight movie, an advisory may indicate that it has been edited for content.

Atlanta-based Delta said earlier this week that it does have standards for what it shows on its in-flight entertainment, including for certain language and sexually explicit content. But it said it generally had a choice of an unedited version or edited version of a film from a distributor. Distributors may use a vendor to edit films. Delta said it did none of the actual editing. 

The airline said it chose the edited version when the unedited version dod not fulfill its standards, but said its "content parameters do not in any way ask for the removal of homosexual content from the film."

On Friday evening, Delta said: “We selected the edited version and now realize content well within our guidelines was unnecessarily excluded from both films.”

“We are working to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Delta said.

The often fantastical “Rocketman,” starring Taron Egerton as part-time Atlantan Elton John (performing Friday and Saturday at State Farm Arena), was a big hit, generating nearly $200 million in worldwide gross on an estimated budget of $40 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Critics embraced the film with an 89% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 21,644 viewers giving it an average 88% positive rating. 

“Booksmart” also received near universal critical praise at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes while viewers were not quite as thrilled (77%). It did not do nearly as well in the box office as “Rocketman,” generating $24.6 million in box office revenue, nearly all of it domestically. But its budget was a mere $6 million with no big name stars, an R rating and no major studio support, with minimal international distribution. So those results aren’t bad. 

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