The sudden death of Michael Jackson on Thursday prompted a series of discussions at Universal Pictures that resulted in the studio cutting a Jackson-related sketch from “Bruno” only hours before its Los Angeles premiere.
Uni removed a scene in which Bruno, the flamboyant Austrian journalist played by Sacha Baron Cohen, interviews an unsuspecting LaToya Jackson about a number of topics, including her brother.
Among the gags is a joke about the King of Pop’s high-pitched voice, as well as a reference to his trademark white glove, all done in Baron Cohen’s characteristically absurdist tone.
The scene played at press screenings earlier in the week, where it did not stand out as unusually outrageous in the context of Baron Cohen’s other antics.
But after Jackson’s death on Thursday, the studio and filmmakers decided to remove the scene for the premiere screening out of sensitivity to the Jackson family. The film now cuts directly from Baron Cohen’s gonzo interview with Paula Abdul to a focus-group for his faux reality show.
Still, because many critics attended those earlier showings, its content could make its way into reviews. Indeed, removing the scene in a way calls more attention to it, though the studio clearly wanted to avoid even the perception of poor taste at any cost.
“We decided to take it out for tonight, and we’ll reassess before the release whether to keep it out,” said director Larry Charles at the premiere’s afterparty. A spokesperson for Universal also confirmed that it had not come to any decision on future showings.
In a sense today’s move was the easy part. The studio is going wide with the film in two weeks, and cutting the scene from every print could be a laborious and expensive process.
It’s rare that a studio changes a movie in post because of current events, though in a slightly different vein, studios pushed back the release of films such as “Spider-Man” in the wake of Sept. 11.