For the first time, Russia’s culture ministry has censored a film by cancelling its license to be shown in theaters. The Death of Stalin is a dark comedy centering on the disarray in the Politburo following the unexpected death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953. Boasting a star-studded cast, the movie was set to open in Russia in late January, after being officially green-lighted by the authorities and granted a license that same month.
It all went sideways after the film was screened again for some top culture figures: Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, nationalist filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov, and several others. The verdict after the screening: the film was a “spit in the face of veterans” just days before Russia was set to mark the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory at Stalingrad.
It is not clear why the ministry did not take offense the first time it watched the film. After it granted the license, cinema chains added the film to their schedules. An article on the RBK agency’s website called the revoking of a film’s license on ideological grounds “extremely rare.” A group of writers in St. Petersburg’s PEN Club said it was the first time Russia had relied on a legal mechanism to exercise censorship.
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