Queer cult classic Shortbus 'banned' by Amazon Prime Video for 'offensive content'

John Cameron Mitchell's sexually-explicit 2006 drama has reportedly been rejected by the streaming service multiple times.


Words: Will Stroude; Image: Alamy

Shortbus, the queer cult classic from director John Cameron Mitchell, has reportedly been banned from Amazon Prime Video for containing "offensive content".

The 2006 film charting the sexual exploration of a group of New Yorkers famously featured a variety of unsimulated straight and gay sex scenes, and has been rejected by the streaming service five times - despite other movies containing similarly explicit and unsimulated content being hosted on the platform.

IndieWire reports that Prime Video says the rejections are because Shortbus's "captions are out of sync" and because it includes "offensive content."

The captions reportedly work on other platforms where Shortbus is available to watch, while other films featuring unsimulated sex currently available to rent on Prime Video include Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac and Vincent Gallo’s Brown Bunny.

Oscilloscope Laboratories, the current distributor for Shortbus, blasted the apparent ban in a post on its Instagram page earlier this month.

"SHORTBUS is the movie @jeffbezos doesn't want you to see! Despite there being plenty of other films on Prime with dicks & real sex, #ShortbusMovie has been BANNED from the platform", a post shared on 2 May reads.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Oscilloscope Laboratories (@oscopelabs)

"So if you want to watch @johncameronmitchell's 2006 masterpiece in stunning 4K, please do so via a more open-minded VOD service."

Oscilloscope Laboratories president Dan Berger told IndieWire: "There’s no shortage of dicks readily available on Amazon, and apparently, there are plenty behind the scenes too.

"The prudishness and utter hypocrisy of refusing to carry this film — one that is the height of healthy representation, inclusiveness, and support for a community often persecuted — only further perpetuates abuse and they should be ashamed." 

Released 16 years ago this month, Shortbus charted the sexual awakening of yet-to-orgasm sex therapist Sofia Lin (Sook-Yin Lee), who finds herself drawn to a Brooklyn club called 'Shortbus'. Plenty of gay and straight sexual shenanigans ensure, including unsimulated scenes of penetration and ejaculation.

Shortbus was released to critical acclaim upon its initial release in May 2006 and predictably sparked plenty of controversy for its explicit nature: In 2007, the film was banned in South Korea, with the film's South Korean distributor eventually winning a Supreme Court case to lift the ban in 2009.

Speaking to Attitude in 2018 about Shortbus's arresting exploration of sex, director John Cameron Mitchell said: "It started out with a more kind of artistic premise which is how can I use sex in a narrative way that respected the complexity of sex, porn looks at one sort of thin layer of it. Other films bring a more negative layer."

The filmmaker - who also wrote, directed and starred in 2001's Hedwig and the Angry Inch - continued: "Sex is as complex a language as music is as it can be connected to emotion and anatomy and comedy and philosophy and I felt not many films were using sex as I wanted to.

"If you saw someone having sex you could tell a lot about them. It’s like DNA. There are very few actors who were willing to go there, and not feel panicky, I thought I would cast people before I had a story so they could bring their own narratives."

Why Shortbus ranks as a modern queer classic (by Attitude film reviewer Guy Lodge)

Our friends in America were recently treated to a restored re-release of John Cameron Mitchell’s thrillingly loose, unruly, ecstatically sex-positive queer comedy, and while there’s no sign of it coming to UK cinemas any time soon, we can at least stream the film in all its filthy glory on MUBI.

Rewatching it for the first time since I was a student in 2006, I was delighted to see how vibrantly it’s held up — both as a raunchy piece of entertainment and as a still subversive poke in the eye of the erotica-shaming mainstream.

I was also struck by how it captures a queer culture obliviously on the verge of losing its communal spaces. (There’s a prescient joke here about finding love on a phone app that predates Grindr by three years).

Loosely, it follows a naive, orgasm-chasing sex therapist and a drifting gay couple into the mind and orifice-expanding realm of an underground New York sex-and-social club, but it unfolds into a joyous, inclusive celebration of everybody’s carnal highs. 

Shortbus is available to stream on MUBI in the UK. Watch the trailer below: