As the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody becomes a Best Picture Oscar nominee, the controversies surrounding it and the alleged abuses of its director Bryan Singer should not be ignored. Leading up to the 91st Academy Award nominations, it seemed all but inevitable that Bohemian Rhapsody would garner a Best Picture nomination. Despite mixed reviews and a mountain of controversy surrounding it, audiences loved the film and propelled it to a worldwide box office gross of just under $800 million, making it the seventh highest grossing movie of 2018 (ahead of Mission: Impossible – Fallout).
Already in the awards race, the film took home the Golden Globe for Best Drama, ahead of favorite A Star is Born, and pushed actor Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury, to the front of the Best Actor race. The film is a front-runner at the upcoming Baftas as well, where it is nominated for, among other awards, Best British Film. Listed as part of that nomination is director Bryan Singer, who has been notably absent from the film’s promotional cycle.
The elephant in the room that is Bryan Singer is one of many issues the film and its cast and crew have tried to avoid in their quest for Oscar glory, and now the biggest problem of all. It was a glaring issue before, but now, it has become an impossible task, one they should not continue.
It’s important to note that, in the grand scheme of things surrounding Bohemian Rhapsody, the question of whether or not it will win Best Picture is clearly not the most pressing issue. To talk about this film is to talk about the ethics of the biopic, the erasure of queerness, and the culpability of an industry in protecting an alleged abuser with over twenty years of allegations and lawsuits to his name. In that context, talking about whether a movie will win a statue of a little gold man feels frivolous. However, it remains important to contextualize why that Oscar and the hunger for it has fuelled many of the issues we talk about now when we talk about Bohemian Rhapsody.
The Oscars represent power: the power of our biggest entertainment industry, the people who run it, and those within the structure who impact how we see the world and ourselves. Bohemian Rhapsody winning Best Picture wouldn’t just be a bad decision in terms of merit: It would be confirmation of the industry’s worst excesses and the ways it has ignored a decades-long problem of systemic abuse.
- This Page: The Problems With Bohemian Rhapsody As A Film
- Page 2: How Bryan Singer's Assault Allegations Impact Bohemian Rhapsody
- Page 3: Why Bohemian Rhapsody Shouldn't Get Away With Bryan Singer
Why Bohemian Rhapsody’s Story Remains Controversial
The problems with Bohemian Rhapsody are not exclusively rooted in the Bryan Singer problem. Even if you are able to completely exclude him from the narrative, the film’s narrative and handling of the story of Freddie Mercury remains highly questionable at best. Questions over the priorities and agenda of the surviving band members of Queen in regards to this film have existed long before Bohemian Rhapsody went into production. Sacha Baron Cohen was initially attached to the project in the role of Mercury, but he left due to creative differences, which he later described to Howard Stern. Allegedly, the early draft of the film would have featured Mercury’s death happening halfway through the film, with the rest of the narrative focused on the surviving band members of Queen pulling together to continue making music. While this is not what happens in the finished producer, Bohemian Rhapsody nevertheless changes to history and depiction of Mercury still raised many questions over accuracy and the intent of band members Roger Taylor and Bryan May, both of whom exerted heavy creative control over the final product.
Various events of Mercury's life were rearranged for dramatic effect in the film. Fake band drama was created and Mercury's sexuality was sanitized for a PG-13 rating. The most egregious example of this dramatic license came with the decision to move Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis up by two years in order to use it as the chief motivating factor for him choosing to perform at Live Aid. Coupled with how Mercury's sexuality and notorious party lifestyle are heavily downplayed in the story and framed as something to be embarrassed about, the overall effect created by Bohemian Rhapsody about Mercury's life is one of shame.
Biopics change history all the time. It’s an expected part of taking a life, with all its mundane and decidedly uncinematic elements, and making it into a succinct narrative. However, those creative necessities cannot help but fall under scrutiny when the story being told so drastically changes history to the hindrance of its late subject and to the benefit of the people helping to craft the narrative. It’s no surprise the film has been accused of being a historical whitewash, one more concerned with Taylor and May’s egos than the memory of a man no longer here to defend himself. Audiences may not have minded about the changes going by the box office, but the problem remains and it is one that will come up time and time again during the next month of the Oscar race. Of course, that is the least of Bohemian Rhapsody’s problems.