Update as of 1-10-2018:Arepresentative from Fox Searchlight tells INTO the studio provides two versions (theatrical and edited to PG standards) to airlines. They could not further comment on why same-sex kissing was seen as less acceptable than heterosexual kissing in this context.
Battle of the Sexes is rated PG-13 (“for some sexual content and partial nudity”), yet the in-flight version seems to be censored in just one specific area. According to a recent passenger on Jet Blue, all same-sex kisses (between stars Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough) have been removed.
A representative from JetBlue Corporate responded to INTO‘s request for comment, saying, “We take the movie studio’s television edit of the film. The edits are at the discretion of the studio.”
The studio, Fox Searchlight, has yet to respond to requests for comment.
Currently, Battle of the Sexes is playing on both domestic and international flights on Virgin, American, Delta, and Lufthansa. The Golden Globe-nominated film, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, follows Billie Jean King (Stone) as she fights for equal pay and respect for professional women’s tennis players (and women in general) in a symbolic match against misogynistic men’s pro Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell). Based on real life, King had her first lesbian relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Riseborough) during this time, and the romance factors heavily into the film.
Although King’s coming into her sexuality is a huge plot point, there are only two sexually-infused moments, and the women’s few kisses are sequestered into two scenes. The only scene that could constitute as a “sex” scene is largely implied, with zero nudity or hands or mouths in orifices.
However, anyone watching Battle of the Sexes on a flight will not be privy to any of King and Barnett’s consummation of their relationship, and this isn’t an anomaly. Sadly, this same kind of homophobic censorship happened with the lesbian-themed film Carol in 2016. Carol writer Phyllis Nagy then tweeted that only two airlines had taken the theatrical version of the film: American and United. The rest, including Delta where the non-kissing version was first called out, had opted for the edited version. A Delta respondent then responded that the edited version of Carol “removes two explicit scenes that do not meet our guidelines” and “also removes all kissing.”
“Because of the explicit scenes included in the non-edited version, we chose the edited version,” Delta said. “This is consistent with what is available to all airlines.”
Explicitly scenes are understandable, but heterosexual kissing is allowed and certainly rampant in other in-flight entertainment options. And somehow, violence is completely acceptable (a recent Economist post notes that while “tribal women’s breasts in The Birth of a Nation were blurred out, the grisly work of bears, axes and whips was left in full graphic detail.”)
Both kissing scenes in Battle of the Sexes are briefindividually under one minute and shot in a dark hotel room so even if an adult viewer might be worried about a child passenger next to them seeing anything “explicit,” they’d have to do a hard lean in to even see what was going on. (This was a point of contention for some queer viewers who actually wanted to see some more physical intimacy between the women.)
While airlines are selecting the versions they make available for passengers, it is up to the studios to provide the options and what, if anything, gets edited from the original films. So if The Weinstein Company takes out Carol and Thereses’s kissing along with their sex scenes, passengers will miss every facet of non-subtextual romance in a film about two women finding love with one another. And if Fox Searchlight removes any of Billie Jean’s kisses with Marilyn, the film is missing a critical part of the story. It might imply that King and Marilyn are simply two best friends who spend a lot of time together, or worse, that they are in love but cannot and will not act on it because homosexuality is too shameful, the actual opposite message King and Battle of the Sexes was, in part, made to send.
Because heterosexual kissing is not deemed illicit or inappropriate for in-flight films, this kind of censorship is quite explicitly homophobic, and studios should be held accountable for their failing of LGBTQ people in this way. (It’s worth noting that 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight received a “poor” rating from GLAAD in 2016.) Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, then, that the Fox Searchlight production notes refer to King’s relationship with Barnett as “her friendship.”
INTO reached out to directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, writer Simon Beaufoy, and editor Pamela Martin for comment, but none have responded as of time of publishing.