When the first trailer for the upcoming Queen and Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was released this past May, it wasn’t met with the excitement and ecstasy one would expect from the LGBTQ community.
Instead many queer people’s opinions were influenced by a few outlets and individuals who saw less than two minutes of footage from the film and rushed to rash judgments: The film “appears to straight-wash Mercury entirely,” said The Advocate; TV writer and producer Bryan Fuller (American Gods, Pushing Daisies) publicly called it “#HetWashing for marketing sakes.”
But about a month shy of the film’s Nov. 2 release, let’s be clear about one thing: Bohemian Rhapsody, a film we’ve been eagerly awaiting since we first heard news of its production, doesn’t “straightwash” Freddie Mercury (who found himself in relationships with both women and men and so is more than likely a bisexual icon). Nor does it gloss over the legendary artist’s unfortunate 1991 death due to HIV complications.
In actuality Bohemian Rhapsody is a thrilling, perpetually goosebumps-inducing, foot-stomping homage to one of the most brilliant queer men to have ever existed, and one who (I realize I’m preaching to the choir, most likely) singlehandedly influenced — and continues to influence — all music to come in his wake.
Among the footage from Bohemian Rhapsody I was treated to earlier this month as part of a press junket for the film — which also included sit-down interviews with its remarkable cast and producer — are scenes in which Freddie Mercury is presented neither as a glam rock musical genius nor as a queer man coming to grips with HIV, but as both of those things, all at once, and so much more.
Freddie Mercury was, after all, a human being. He’s incapable of being reduced to one-note representations in order to serve someone else’s narrative. And as with any biopic, the objective should be to shine a light on a person’s complexities, struggles and, ultimately, their transformation.
Rami Malek tells Hornet what he learned about Mercury while making the film: “Like any human being, [I learned] how many sides to them there are. The Freddie you see in music videos or in interviews is just one aspect of him, and getting a chance to discover his vulnerability and a very complicated search for identity was pretty fascinating for me.”
As for the most difficult part about getting the film made, producer Graham King tells us it was “getting Hollywood to believe in this story.”
“A lot of people don’t know that Freddie had a relationship and was engaged to Mary Austin before coming out. They don’t know about his life. They don’t know he was born in Zanzibar and raised in Mumbai,” he says. “A young immigrant coming to a country and becoming Freddie Mercury — that’s very accessible — and relative today. [Bohemian Rhapsody] really is a celebration of his life.”
Come early November, the world is sure to be thrilled with Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s impossible to stress enough how breathtakingly brilliant Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury truly is — the perfect adjective to describe his performance because Malek’s utterances as the Queen frontman quite literally suck the air from your lungs.
Bohemian Rhapsody is an illuminating piece of art that does justice to Freddie Mercury — as an immigrant, as a magnanimous soul, as a rock god and, yes, as a queer man whose life was claimed far too soon by HIV. The LGBTQ community should revel in the fact that one of our own has received the film treatment he’s so long deserved.