Russia Reportedly Ignoring Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Homosexuality In Partly State-Funded Biopic

Russian Biopic Sparks Controversy With BIG Oversight
Russian composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky is seen in this undated photograph. (AP Photo)
Russian composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky is seen in this undated photograph. (AP Photo)

Revisionism is king in Russia today, as it appears even the country's most famous artists aren't safe from state-sponsored "straight-washing."

That's the opinion of some historians and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocates chagrined to hear that an upcoming film may be glossing over the sexual orientation of one of the nation's most famous 19th century composers.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the man who wrote the music for such iconic ballets "Swan Lake" and "The Nutcracker," is getting the biopic treatment in his motherland, but his private life may be running afoul of Russia's controversial new laws banning LGBT propaganda.

“It is absolutely not a fact that Tchaikovsky was a homosexual,” acclaimed screenwriter Yuri Arabov told Russian newspaper Izvestia, according to a translation by The Huffington Post. “Only philistines think this.”

Arabov added that in his script Tchaikovsky is portrayed as a man who is upset by false rumors of his homosexuality, according to Izvestia.

But many scholars would disagree with such assertions. A well-received biography written by Roland John Wiley in 2009, for example, claimed that Tchaikovsky discussed being discriminated against because of his homosexuality.

"Cursed buggermania forms an impassable gulf between me and most people," Tchaikovsky wrote in the letters obtained by Wiley, according to The Independent. "It imparts to my character an estrangement, fear of people, shyness, immoderate bashfulness, mistrust, in a word, a thousand traits from which I am getting ever more unsociable. Imagine that often, and for hours at a time, I think about a monastery or something of the kind."

Given these sources, the categorical denials by Arabov have raised fears that the anti-LGBT propaganda law is creating an atmosphere of self-censorship. Indeed, Arabov told Russian newspaper Izvestia that he was "opposed to the discussion of homosexual themes, especially in the arts."

At the same time, the Guardian reports that the film, titled “Tchaikovsky,” may have been changed to systematically erase references to a homosexual love affair included in the original.

Film columnist Larisa Malyukova seemed to confirm this fact in an independent newspaper, writing that she had viewed a 2012 draft of the movie that included a homosexual love angle, according to the Guardian. Five revisions later, however, that angle had been removed, and the film, which had struggled to receive some funding from state officials, was finally approved by the culture ministry.

Interestingly, British actor and LGBT advocate Stephen Fry warned that something like this might happen a few weeks ago in a letter calling for international action in advance of the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia.

"Any defence or sane discussion of homosexuality is against the law," Fry wrote on his blog on Aug. 7. "Any statement, for example, that Tchaikovsky was gay and that his art and life reflects this sexuality and are an inspiration to other gay artists would be punishable by imprisonment."

Signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June, the Russian statute imposes fines on anyone disseminating "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors and proposes penalties for expressing similar opinions in the media, according to the Associated Press. Four members of a Dutch documentary film have already been detained under the law, although they were later released.

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