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Delta Responds After Olivia Wilde Slams Airline For Editing ‘Female Sexuality’ Out Of ‘Booksmart’

left: Sjoerd van der Wal / Getty Images right: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / Getty Images

Delta Airlines learned this week that as useful as it is to collaborate with fellow service providers, it’s also important to read the fine print. 

After film director Olivia Wilde previewed one of her own films on a Delta flight, she discovered scenes had been cut from the theatrical version.

And she called the airline out on it. 

Part of a wave of new films that includes themes that are more sexually inclusive and positive, Wilde directed the recent box office hit, Booksmart. 

The movie tracks two best friends in high school, who tried to get ahead by focusing on their studies—only to realize shortly before they graduate that they’ve probably missed all the important social milestones of high school. In one night, the two young women attempt to accomplish all the crazy antics high school has to offer, with some hilarious and dark turns thrown in.

The film also includes elements of female sexuality, including intimate sex scenes and other interactions. 

Prior to her flight, Wilde discovered in a Twitter thread that some scenes from Booksmart had been inappropriately removed from the version used by Delta Airlines. This week, she took a flight and watched the film to see how extensive the cuts were. 

Wilde then appeared at the Academy of Motion Pictures Governor’s Awards, where she shared her findings. 

Wilde stated:

“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?” 

Wilde also pointed out that the airline’s edited version of the film did not include a female masturbation scene, an animation-style scene in which the two leading characters appear as naked dolls or a scene where the characters watched porn. After also cutting the words “vagina” and “genitals” from the film’s dialogue, it was as if the third-party company had attempted to de-sexualize the film.

Wilde argued:

“What message is this sending to viewers and especially to women? That their bodies are obscene? That their sexuality is shameful?” 

Recent box office film Rocketman—about the life of singer Elton John—came under similar editing scrutiny from a third-party company. All references to sexuality and drug-use were cut from the film all-together, effectively removing any of the storyline that illuminated Elton John’s story of embracing his sexuality. 

A statement from Elton John and his fellow filmmakers said: 

“[The fact that] the local distributor has edited out certain scenes, denying the audience the opportunity to see the film as it was intended, is a sad reflection of the divided world we still live in and how it can still be so cruelly unaccepting of the love between two people.”

Wilde returned to Twitter where she had heard about the film being censored and shared her thoughts on how the airline can improve. 

Wilde suggested: 

“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.”

Since Wilde’s public statements, Delta Airlines has, fortunately, come forward to begin to mend the missteps regarding Booksmart and Rocketman. 

Delta said in a statement:

“We are immediately putting a new process in place for managing content available through Delta’s in-flight entertainment. Studios often provide videos in two forms: a theatrical, original version and an edited version.”

“We selected the edited version and now realize content well within our guidelines was unnecessarily excluded from both films. We are working to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The airline also clarified their stance on LGBTQ+ films:

“Currently, we have Gentleman Jack, Imagine Me and You, and Moonlight onboard and countless content in the past that clearly shows it is not our practice to omit LGBTQ+ love scenes.”

Though some have shown their frustration, others expressed support of Delta’s quick efforts to make changes. 

It’s refreshing to see a company make a swift apology and then make efforts to improve the situation.

Hopefully, we will begin to see more inclusive thinking in all areas, so situations like this one do not arise in the first place.

The film Booksmart is available here.

McKenzie Lynn Tozan

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan lives in North Chicago, where she works as a poet, freelance writer, and editor. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University, and her BA in English from Indiana University South Bend. Her poems have appeared in Rogue Agent, Whale Road Review, the James Franco Review, Thank You for Swallowing, and elsewhere; and her essays and book reviews have appeared with Memoir Mixtapes, The Rumpus, BookPage, and Motherly, among others. When she's not reading and writing, she's in her garden or spending time with her family. For more, visit www.mckenzielynntozan.com.