Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen is a fearless, equal-opportunity offender, but when it comes to jokes about Michael Jackson in Baron Cohen's new film "Bruno," there apparently are limits: At the last minute, "Bruno's" filmmakers have deleted a comic sequence about Jackson and his sister, La Toya.
When the film was shown to audiences several weeks ago, "Bruno" included a scene in which Baron Cohen's title character -- a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion journalist -- conducts staged interviews with C-list celebrities, including Paula Abdul and La Toya Jackson.
When Baron Cohen's Bruno character is interviewing La Toya, he asks about her brother, then takes her personal digital assistant and looks for Michael's telephone number.
Baron Cohen then dictates numbers in German to an assistant (the suggestion is that they are Michael's phone number) as La Toya becomes increasingly alarmed by Baron Cohen's conduct, which includes using kneeling Mexican laborers as chairs and trying to serve sushi to his interviewees from the body of a prone -- and naked -- man.
Soon thereafter, La Toya cuts off the interview and drives away.
But when "Bruno" was shown to Hollywood insiders at the film's Thursday night premiere, the scene was nowhere to be found.
The sequence was deleted between Michael Jackson's afternoon death and the commencement of the screening around 8 p.m.
"Out of respect for the Jackson family, the filmmakers have decided to remove a small scene involving La Toya Jackson," Universal Studios, the film's producer and distributor, said Friday in a statement.
It's not the first time that a film or film advertising has been changed in reaction to tragic news events.
New York's Twin Towers appeared prominently in skyline shots of the romantic comedy "Kissing Jessica Stein," which was shown at two film festivals before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
But when the movie was released theatrically several months later, the shots of the World Trade Center had been excised. Jennifer Westfeldt, the film's star, co-writer and co-producer, said the images were too "distracting." Shots of the World Trade Center were cut from the films "Zoolander" and "Serendipity" for similar reasons.
Similarly, Sony Pictures overhauled some of its early advertising materials for the first "Spider-Man" movie, which had included a shot of the title character spreading a web between the Twin Towers. And director Sam Raimi, who had considered using the buildings in the film, didn't end up doing so.
Disney pulled its 1993 film "The Program" from theaters and recut the movie after one teenager was killed and two others seriously wounded imitating a scene in which characters from the film lay down in the middle of a road.
"In light of the incidents reported," Disney said at the time, "we are deleting the scene from the movie."