Why Freddie Mercury’s sexuality cannot be erased


Bohemian Rhapsody has been censored in China to remove all mentions of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, and this issue isn’t only China’s problem.

Bohemian Rhapsody has dealt with an overwhelming amount of controversy, from director Bryan Singer being accused of sexual assault to the LGBTQ community criticizing the film for how it portrayed Freddie Mercury’s life and sexuality.

Negative reviews note the film did not explore Mercury’s sexuality very well or very accurately, and in fact hurt Mercury’s legacy by portraying as an overly promiscuous, gay stereotype. There are also criticisms in regards to how the film explores his identity, and what it is to be homosexual and bisexual.

Now, the film is dealing with controversy once again, this time because of its release overseas in China. Freddie Mercury is one of the most well-known and loved queer celebrities of all time, but you won’t get that storyline in a Chinese movie theater. If that censorship wasn’t upsetting enough, these scenes mount to just three minutes of total screen time, adding more fuel to the fire that this movie didn’t do a great job of handling Mercury’s sexuality in the first place.

Three key scenes were cut from the film, including when Mercury meets his future partner Jim Hutton and the scene when he first comes out to Mary.

This censorship is blatant erasure of Mercury’s story and legacy, and many moviegoers in China aren’t supportive of the censorship. In an article by The New York Times, some people in China say they won’t support this censored version, such as one fashion writer in Beijing who said, “On principle, I refuse to watch this type of crudely censored film.”

Showing queer relationships or anything about LGBTQ issues in media is extremely rare in China. Looking at a list of banned, partially banned or unreleased films in China, several of these movies were blacklisted due to sexual scenes or LGBTQ characters and storylines (for example: Brokeback MountainCall Me By Your Name). For Bohemian Rhapsody,  LGBTQ censorship even extended to Rami Malek’s Academy Awards speech when the words “gay man” were replaced with “special group.”

While erasing a mere three minutes from a movie might not seem like a big deal, erasing Mercury’s sexuality is to dishonor and disrespect his legacy. His queerness wasn’t the only thing about him that was special or worth noting, but it was an important part of him, especially given that society was much less open to queer people during the time Mercury was alive.

Additionally, any retelling of Mercury’s life shouldn’t just focus on the fact he died from AIDS. Nonetheless, this is a historical fact and showing this aspect of his life depicts the challenges and obstacles gay/queer men faced during the AIDS epidemic.

Simply put — Freddie Mercury’s story can’t be told by straight washing him.

Sure, the original version of the film could have done a much better job to tell a historically accurate, complex, nuanced story around Mercury’s sexuality, but it didn’t ignore or erase it completely.

Cutting out scenes of a sexual Mercury makes his sexuality seem dirty and wrong. To put out that message to the public — when entertainment and pop culture so often portray what society sees as admirable and acceptable — is just horrible. Queer people in China deserve to see queer people on screen.

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Bohemian Rhapsody‘s censorship issues point to a bigger problem that impacts China as well as the world. Queer relationships should never be censored; they are just as normal, beautiful, and healthy as straight relationships and deserved to be portrayed as such on screen.