For those who saw Bohemian Rhapsody and were incensed by the film’s “straightwashing” — erasure of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s queer sexuality — you’ll find it completely ridiculous how much censors have cut from the film being shown to Chinese audiences. With at least 10 moments or scenes cut from the 2018 Oscar-winning film, the Bohemian Rhapsody China edit is a blatant attempt to literally erase LGBTQ people from existence.
China’s censorship of LGBTQ people, ideas and culture is nothing new, as Hornet has continually reported. We’re talking about an embarrassingly queerphobic regime that sentenced an author to 10 years behind bars for including gay sex in her latest novel, and a regime that expects broadcasters to blur the ears of male TV stars who wear earrings, because challenging “traditional gender roles” is considered obscene.
In February, a Chinese broadcaster mistranslated part of Bohemian Rhapsody actor Rami Malek’s Oscars acceptance speech. When the actor spoke of the film being about a “gay man,” that phrase was instead translated to viewer as “special group.”
Apparently China feels LGBTQ-ness can be stopped by enshrouding from public view any semblance of queer identity and culture. But as ignorant, foolish and fruitless those attempts are, they’re no less insulting.
Among the moments removed for the Bohemian Rhapsody China edit are any scenes that made mention of Freddie Mercury’s queer identity. In total the cuts reportedly measure only a few minutes — due to the cuts being typically just a few seconds here and there — but as you can see, the Bohemian Rhapsody China edit offers viewers a film devoid of not just historical accuracy but any sort of coherence. (In Malaysia, a country also rife with homophobia and anti-gay laws, even more of the film — 24 minutes — was cut from its final edit.)
The cuts include footage of Mercury’s gyrating hips during the scene in which he performs on Top of the Pops. When Mercury shares a first (unwanted) kiss with Paul Prenter, the band’s manager, that moment and the surrounding dialogue was cut, as was the character’s first kiss with Mercury’s eventual longtime lover, Jim Hutton.
A crux of the film — the moment when Mercury tells the love of his life, Mary, that he’s bisexual, to which she responds, “Freddie, you’re gay” — was also cut. In the Bohemian Rhapsody China edit, he simply breaks up with Mary’s character, offering no reason why.
One-off lines of dialogue — when Roger Taylor tells Mercury his new moustache makes him look “gayer,” and when a reporter asks Mercury to address “rumors concerning your sexuality” — were also cut from the film’s China edit.
The entire scene in which Queen films the “I Want to Break Free” music video — during which all four guys are in drag — is nonexistent in the Bohemian Rhapsody China edit.
Most disappointing of all, though, are two moments that are both central to the film and Freddie Mercury’s life story: The first, when Mercury makes his announcement to the band that he has AIDS. But instead of cutting the scene altogether, which would have quite literally gutted any semblance of heart from the film’s conclusion, the sound is simply cut and no subtitles are provided. It’s one of the film’s most emotional, heart-breaking scenes, and the Chinese audience is left clueless as to what’s happening.
The second truly disappointing cut occurs after the Live Aid concert concludes, just before the credits roll. The film shows us a photo of the real Freddie Mercury with his lover Jim Hutton, along with the words “Freddie and Jim enjoyed a loving relationship for the remainder of Freddie’s life.” That card is cut from the film altogether, a never-more-blatant example of the Chinese government attempting to erase the existence of queer sexuality and identity.
Chinese censors will continue to disappoint the international LGBTQ community by denying our existence and rewriting history to suit some blatantly false, discriminatory version of life. And without filmmakers and film studios of the West (like the recently Disney-acquired 20th Century Fox, which produced Bohemian Rhapsody) stepping up to disallow these butchered versions of their important stories from being presented to audiences — even if such decisions result in less money in the bank — we should expect nothing to change.