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Rocketman is the first major studio movie to finally depict gay sex

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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After a reported skirmish about whether or not to include scenes of gay sex, Rocketman’s producers stuck to their guns and the movie will be the first major studio release to include gay sex. This is why that matter so much. 

Richard Madden’s bottom sure is a troublemaker.

Remember when the mere reveal of it in Bodyguard damn near broke the internet last year? Well, we do. We remember it so distinctly, as if its tasteful exposure in episode two were only yesterday. (“One of the residents at the care home I work at – she’s 98 – told me she loves Bodyguard mainly because she’s in love with Richard Madden, especially his bum,” one tweet at the time read.)

And then, in March, there was the news that Madden’s bottom – as seen in the forthcoming Elton John biopic Rocketman – was causing a ruckus behind the scenes on that movie. According to a Daily Mail report, the director of Rocketman was being pressured into cutting the film’s sex scene between stars Madden and Taron Egerton, in character as John and his manager John Reid.

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The Internet erupted with censure – how dare this movie, which claimed to tell the powerful life story of one of the music industry’s most recognisable figures, erase such a huge part of Elton John’s identity? In real life, Reid is the man to whom John lost his virginity. This sex scene not only makes narrative sense, but is a crucial part of John’s life. 

It would appear that whoever was battling to keep Madden’s bottom enshrined in celluloid won this imperative fight. 

The film just premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and, according to The Hollywood Reporter, it features men kissing, simulated oral sex and, to use their words, a “steamy bedroom scene with both Egerton and Madden unclothed”. (Hello!) Vulture was a little more explicit, noting that although “we get a small glimpse of John’s tush… there are no full thrusts”. They deemed the sex scene “gay and hot but honestly… not gay enough”.

Still, the inclusion of these scenes means that, in Rocketman, gay sex will be part of a major studio film for the first time in Hollywood history. 

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The significance of this cannot be understated. Though gay sex has been portrayed onscreen before it has always been in independent movies like Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name. Major studio movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, which won Rami Malek an Oscar for his portrayal of the bisexual music icon Freddie Mercury, featured just three minutes of gay scenes and just one gay kiss, all of which were cut from the movie when it was released in China.

Rocketman may well lose money because of its promise to tell the honest story of John’s life. It may well be banned fro release in China, a country where gay sex was illegal until as recently as 1997. 

But by including these crucial scenes, Rocketman is taking a huge step in the right direction for LGBTQ+ representation onscreen. It was not so long ago that the Hays Code, a set of moral principles dictating everything that could or, more specifically, couldn’t be shown in films, prevented Hollywood movies and the stars who acted in them from speaking openly about their sexuality.

Still, in the year 2017 only 14 out of 109 major studio releases featured a character that identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. GLAAD termed it an “overall bleak year for inclusion in major studio films”. 

Movies like Rocketman, with its gay sex scenes and kisses and explicit discussion of its characters’ sexualities, are changing all this. And not a moment too soon. 

Images: Paramount

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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