Chief censor Dennis Tangirere says he has not yet prohibited screenings of the Elton John movie. “The movie has been condemned, not banned,” he said.
The final sign-off would be by Internal Affairs secretary Anne Herman, presently out of the country, he said.
Human rights lawyers and activists are poised to take action if the ban proceeds: solicitor Heinz Matysik said the grounds for court action would depend on the basis of censor’s decision.
“A judicial review application would need to be directed at the decision-maker, which would be the chief censor.”
There was cause for worry about what “banning” tells minority groups in our society and what it says about ourselves, he said.
“I am increasingly concerned about the attacks on liberal democracy which we are seeing around the world,” he explained.
“We only need to look at the current US administration, the divisions caused by Brexit in the UK, the populist government in Poland under the Law and Justice party, and the election of president Bolsonaro last year in Brazil to name a few. The rise of populist movements find their strength in marginalising minority groups.”
He said censoring a movie on “moral” grounds was the latest example of marginalising a minority group.
Rocketman is a musical film based on the life of musician Elton John. It follows his early days as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music, through to his musical partnership with Bernie Taupin. The film is titled after their 1972 song, “Rocket Man”.
Elton John has revealed he fought the studios to ensure they retained the scenes of sex and drug use that are now causing offence in conservative countries. “Some studios wanted to tone down the sex and drugs so the film would get a PG13 rating,” he said. “But I just haven't led a PG-13 rated life.”
Rocketman was released at Empire Theatre from June 6 and had screened since then, however the movie was pulled from screens on Friday. The chief censor said nobody had lodged an official complaint against Rocketman and, accordingly, it was not yet banned – for now, it is just “condemned”.
Tangirere did previously comment that the Cook Islands had “banned films here before for containing homosexual content”.
It is understood the last movie banned in the Cook Islands was The Wolf of Wall Street, a 2013 blockbuster featuring Leonardo di Caprio and Jonah Hill as sex-crazed, drug-fuelled New York financiers.
Matysik said the Rocketman ban could not be allowed to proceed, lest it victimise minorities.
“The danger of allowing this to go unchallenged is that it starts to normalise mob rule – that is, the notion that the majority’s will should prevail while trampling on the rights of the few, the weak and the vulnerable.”
Matysik said he had no problem with churches or religious views. “The Constitution protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion – which includes freedom against religion.
“We all want a society which protects everybody’s fundamental human rights and treats everybody with equality and respect.”