But watch “Booksmart” on a Delta Air Lines flight, and the R-rated high school comedy will skip right through that scene. Reportedly, the in-flight cut also passes over the words “vagina” and “genitals,” an exchange about a lesbian sex act, talk of a urinary tract infection, and a bit in which Amy and her friend watch porn in the back of a ride-share.
Amid calls of censorship, those edits — made by an outside company that works with the airline — are drawing the ire and confusion of passengers and Hollywood insiders alike, in what’s at least the fourth instance when same-sex romance has been stripped from an in-flight Delta movie in recent years.
“If it’s not X-rated, surely it’s acceptable on an airplane,” director Olivia Wilde said at an awards show on Sunday night. “There’s insane violence of bodies being smashed in half [in other movies], and yet a love scene between two women is censored from the film. It’s such an integral part of this character’s journey. I don’t understand it."
In a statement to The Washington Post early Thursday, Delta said its “content parameters do not in any way ask for the removal of homosexual content from the film.”
But it’s not the first time the airline has come under fire for the situation — or, for that matter, even the only time this week. On Tuesday, other Delta passengers protested that the in-flight cut of “Rocketman,” the Elton John biopic released this year, was missing sex scenes and even a chaste kiss between two men.
The same was true of “Carol,” which recounted a love story between two women, and “Bad Moms,” with its drunken smooch between two of the titular mothers. As LGBTQ story lines gain more visibility in Hollywood following years of taboos, stereotypes and silence, Delta’s critics say it represents a frustrating and perplexing double standard that seems to exist only aboard airplanes.
“It’s ridiculous,” said actress Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Amy, upon learning about the edits. “I don’t even know what to say to that. That makes me so mad.”
Her co-star, Beanie Feldstein, had previously hailed the bathroom scene as a “radical” element of the movie, which has also been praised for its depictions of nuanced female friendship.
“By showing queer sexuality, and making heterosexual people relate to it is actually really deeply meaningful,” Feldstein, who identifies as queer, told People magazine in May. “By doing that, you’re asking that to be the norm."
So when the actress first learned about the cuts on Sunday while scrolling through Twitter on her way to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Governors Awards, she told reporters on the red carpet that she was determined to rectify the situation.
“Our movie is a beautiful representation of the queer experience as young people,” Feldstein said on the red carpet. “So we’re getting to the bottom of it, don’t worry.”
All that she and Wilde have found so far, though, is the complex, obscure backstory for how movies get edited down from the silver screen.
According to Variety, an outside editing company provides Delta with both a cut-down version of the film and the original version of the movie. (Delta did not immediately respond to requests for the company’s name.) If there’s anything in the unedited film that violates its standards, Delta goes with the stripped-down version. It’s unclear what part of “Booksmart” went against the airline’s guidelines, though a travel news website noted that editing companies also work with airlines to obey different laws and customs worldwide.
As Wilde pointed out on Twitter, however, a passenger must agree to a “parental advisory” before starting the raunchy comedy, which warns them that viewer discretion is advised.
“We value diversity and inclusion as core to our culture and our mission and will review our processes to ensure edited video content doesn’t conflict with these values,” Delta said in a statement to The Post.
The controversy spilled over into a film festival panel on Tuesday, where Wilde noted that the in-flight version kept plenty of curse words, as well as depictions of men behaving lewdly — including a scene in which a male character imitates a sex act on a microphone during karaoke. Yet, she added, the Delta edit cut out another scene that shows two characters as unclothed Barbie dolls.
“I’m just curious what a woman is supposed to take from that. That it’s an obscenity? That it’s inappropriate?” Wilde said. She later speculated that the scene was cut because “it might suggest to you that women, I don’t know, have bodies or can experience pleasure, or deserve it.”
I finally had the chance to watch an edited version of Booksmart on a flight to see exactly what had been censored. Turns out some airlines work with a third party company that edits the movie based on what they deem inappropriate. Which, in our case, is ... female sexuality? 🤔— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) October 30, 2019
I urge every airline, especially those who pride themselves on inclusivity, to stop working with this third party company, and trust the parental advisory warning to allow viewers to opt out if they choose.— olivia wilde (@oliviawilde) October 30, 2019
The airline drew similar criticisms of imposing a double standard onto the in-flight version of “Rocketman.” Passengers say the film kept a scene in which John’s manager physically abuses him, but not ones in which the two have sex or even kiss.
“What does it say that the edit left in a scene of John Reid assaulting Elton but removed any evidence of intimacy between them or for that matter Elton and any man?” Shana Naomi Krochmal, digital director at Entertainment Weekly, wrote on Twitter. “What is that saying is OK?”
The same was true of previous edits made for Delta: 2015′s “Carol” kept a heterosexual kiss involving a minor male character but cut out the love scene between its two main characters, the Advocate reported, while “Bad Moms” ditched its woman-on-woman kiss but not its woman-on-man hookup.
Following backlash in 2017, the airline said it would no longer show edited versions of films that go “beyond omitting explicit material to remove scenes that reflect the diversity of our employees and customers.”
Two years later, however, Delta is still facing accusations of censorship.
To the audience at the film festival, Wilde said: “Make movies that are authentic, and talk about real things. And then protect those movies and don’t let anybody censor you.”