The upcoming Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody has had a somewhat checkered history. The project had originally cast Sacha Baron Cohen as Freddie Mercury, only for him to leave the role because he claimed they were washing out the more decadent and sexual aspects of his story. He was also a bit miffed that Mercury died in the middle of the film, with the second half focusing on how the band carried on afterwards, which seems like a very strange decision. But even with the part now being played by Rami Malek, the pic still hasn’t escaped controversy.
Much of this stems from the film’s trailers, which show Freddie Mercury flirting with women and with a YouTube description claiming we’d see him suffering from “a life-threatening illness” rather than just coming out and saying AIDS. Some, notably writer/director Bryan Fuller, accused the film of ‘hetwashing’ Mercury’s story. Back in May, he said:
“I feel what the trailer is doing is queer-erasure. If they were out and proud with his bi-sexuality they would have indicated he was bi-sexual. Showing him romantic with a woman, but not a man (3 frames don’t count) is not a celebration of bi-sexual identity. It’s hiding it.”
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With Bohemian Rhapsody‘s release coming up on November 2nd, Malek has now hit back at the criticism, explaining in an interview with Attitude that people should not judge the film by its trailer:
“It’s a shame that people are making remarks after a minute teaser where you just wanna see the music. It’s difficult. First, let me say that I don’t think the film shies away from his sexuality or his all-consuming disease, which is obviously Aids. I don’t know how you could avoid any of that, or if anyone would ever want to. It’s a bit absurd that anyone’s judging this from a minute trailer. The film needed to approach it in a delicate manner.
You can’t shy away from it. It was an important moment to have in the film, one that ultimately is very sad but also empowering in a way. It shows you just how resilient human beings can be and how much we rely on the strength of our friends and family to get us through tough times. This pandemic is still very much a horrific threat to so many people in the world. It exists as a reality for so many that I think it would be a shame not to address it.”
While I’m sure Malek is right and the movie will indeed not shy away from Mercury’s sexuality and behavior, I think critics are making a valid point. Some bean-cruncher somewhere has probably done some analysis and argued that it’d negatively affect the box office if the trailers were overtly gay.
Whether you think that analysis is correct or not depends on your confidence in modern audiences, but we’re living in a world where films like Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name have been huge hits at the box office and in awards season. Plus, it’s not as if Mercury’s sexual preferences are some kind of secret – the band’s called Queen, after all.
I guess we’ll know for sure whether Bohemian Rhapsody does the singer’s life justice later this fall when it sings and dances its way into theaters.