The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Russia bans American film ‘Child 44’ because it makes Stalin look bad

Russians won't get to see Gary Oldman, left, and Tom Hardy in "Child 44." (Larry Horricks/Lionsgate via AP)

MOSCOW — Mark down another casualty of Russia’s churning culture wars: “Child 44,” a Hollywood thriller about Stalin-era Russia, was pulled here Wednesday just a day before its release.

Russia’s Culture Ministry said the movie’s distribution would be “inappropriate” just weeks ahead of celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Now Russian moviegoers will have no chance to watch Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy track down a serial killer preying on young boys against the swirling political backdrop of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The decision came a day after the Culture Ministry screened the movie, which was produced by Lionsgate. Journalists had come to the ministry with questions about “the distortion of historical facts and original interpretations of events before, during and after the Great Patriotic War,” the ministry said in a statement, using the Russian term for World War II.

“It is important that we should finally put an end to the endless series of schizophrenic reflections of ourselves,” Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky said in a statement posted by the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

The movie depicts “not a country, but a Mordor, with physically and mentally inferior subhumans,” he said.

The ministry said the Russian distributors of the film, Central Partnership, agreed that the movie was “inappropriate” for screening on the eve of blowout celebrations expected in Russia for the victory anniversary.

The movie was to have received a wide release, and the last-minute decision left theaters scrambling to redo their weekend schedules.

The book on which the movie is based focuses on a Stalin-era serial killer and the security agent-turned-rogue who tries to track him down despite the government’s best efforts to cover up the crimes. The 2008 novel by Tom Rob Smith was a wild bestseller. But Russia, in recent years, has worked hard to reshape the narrative of its troubled history, and the efforts have accelerated in the year since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Many of the efforts have focused on restoring Stalin’s reputation, portraying him as a builder of the Russian nation and the architect of victory over Nazis, not a man who presided over the deaths of millions of his fellow countrymen. The only museum at a Stalin-era labor camp was taken over by the state this spring, and the focus of its exhibits shifted to the lives of the captors, not the prisoners. Stalin's popularity has been rising in Russian opinion polls.

The decision to can the Russian release of the movie came just days after Russian lawmakers dissected the finer points of twerking, a booty-shaking dance that was carried out with expert precision by a group of schoolgirls in a Russian city. In recent months, Russian policymakers also have moved to shut down operas, plays and concerts they deem objectionable.

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