Bohemian Rhapsody’s Chinese release sees all references to Freddie Mercury’s sexuality removed. The Oscar-winning film stars Rami Malek as the iconic Queen frontman, and depicts both the band and Mercury’s trials and tribulations in their meteoric rise to global fame.
Since his passing of AIDS related bronchial pneumonia in 1991, much has been revealed about the private life of Mercury, some of which is covered in Bohemian Rhapsody. Though Mercury’s sexuality wasn’t public knowledge prior to his death, today he's widely regarded as a gay icon and hero, although some also argue that he was in fact bisexual. The biopic had initially received some criticism for its alleged attempts to moralize Mercury’s onscreen behavior by hinting that his troubles stemmed from his own homosexual lifestyle. Despite not hitting the mark with some, however, the film managed a successful box office run, which has been further buoyed by its four Oscar wins at this year’s Academy Awards.
In fact, the success that Bohemian Rhapsody managed to find at the Oscars arguably helped push the film into other markets such as China, where it hadn’t previously been guaranteed to screen. But as EW reports, the Chinese cut of Bohemian Rhapsody has removed all references to Mercury’s sexuality, as well as any scenes that show sexual contact between men.
The Chinese censorship of the film also removes any mention of the word “gay” and cuts the scene in which Mercury and the rest of the band dress in drag for their video shoot of “I Want to Break Free”. What’s more, one of the film’s most essential relationships is virtually eliminated as a result of the censorship, with major moments between Mercury and his long-term partner Jim Hutton removed. As of this writing, Fox has yet to comment on the changes, though some in China’s LGBTQ community see the screening of the film in any state to be a victory for LGBTQ rights in China. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in China, though the Chinese state has completely banned any depictions of what it considers to be “abnormal sexual behavior” in cinema and television programming. Even Malek’s best actor Oscar acceptance speech couldn’t escape censorship in China, as the words “gay man” were cut from the broadcast.
This latest controversy surrounding the film has added more fuel to the fire for LGBTQ rights advocates outside of China, who argue that the film’s gay elements are so minuscule that they can be removed without affecting the overall narrative. While this is a valid argument, one can’t help but wonder just how much sense Bohemian Rhapsody makes without including key elements that made Freddie Mercury the brilliant performer and human being he was.