Drawn to Freddie Mercury’s unparalleled voice and flamboyance, drawn to the tune lyrics which have proved themselves indelible in our collective reminiscence, like so many, I grew up idolizing the Queen frontman. This was earlier than I knew about his sexuality – and even my very own – however in some ways, it wasn’t a secret. His efficiency of gender and masculinity was coded in queerness, nuances in the course of the ’70s and ’80s that now, in hindsight, appear to scream with readability.
At the moment, Freddie Mercury wasn’t capable of be publicly out and have the profession that he did. That is what makes the current Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, a film simply as fearful of his sexuality, so distressing. Because the movie, which gained the Golden Globe for finest movement image drama and finest actor for lead Rami Malek, continues to obtain accolades, Hollywood is signaling that that is the gold commonplace for queer storytelling.
On paper, the film is successful: it is turn into the best grossing LGBTQ movie of all time. Hollywood replicates that which has a confirmed monitor report, so we’re certain to see these similar tropes play out on display screen sooner or later.
For the better a part of our historical past, queer individuals have been pressured to determine one another via furtive glances and coded language; these have been survival techniques. If we acknowledged ourselves straight with phrases or actions, we have been opening ourselves as much as hazard. We see Mercury, performed by Malek within the movie, making suggestive eyes with a person, a stranger. The implication is that he’ll observe him right into a public rest room for a hookup, although earlier than we discover out what occurs, the digicam cuts to a brand new scene. A lot later, he is proven in a homosexual bar, surrounded by males in leather-based, although not participating with anybody onscreen. In distinction, a special scene reveals Mercury approaching a lady at a live performance. That is Mary Austin, his lifelong buddy and confidant. They flirt, and Mercury later reveals up on the store the place she works to ask her out. Later, they’re laying on a sofa, partially clothed, and Freddie proposes to her. It is a second of intimacy, the sort you go to a loud biopic a few well-known rock star to see. However within the context of Bohemian Rhapsody, the lesson is that relationships with ladies are virtuous and are one thing to pursue, whereas relationships with males are one thing to cover.
That is, surely, one thing that Mercury himself would have recognized throughout his life – it guided a large number of the issues he did – however the film fails by solely presenting the Freddie Mercury that was crafted and introduced for public consumption, not the personal Freddie Mercury who existed past closed rest room doorways.
Brian Might and Roger Taylor, two remaining members of Queen that served as inventive and musical consultants on the movie, are complicit on this sanitized model of Freddie Mercury. This Mercury has been chewed on and softened to enchantment to a large viewers, spit again up into one thing deemed palatable. It is not Might and Taylor’s mission to allow you to into a brand new fact about this legendary singer; it is about preserving the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen. Which means dropping the issues that do not match into a contented, crowd-pleasing narrative: Freddie’s self-described ardour for cocaine, polyamorous relationships, and a intercourse life that included romantic companions, informal companions, and intercourse staff.
“To me, dullness is a illness. I would like hazard and pleasure.”
Mercury had an unlimited intercourse drive. This was asserted many instances all through his life, and it is an necessary level misplaced within the film. He was a person of extra, certainly one of his defining traits, and that included intercourse. Talking to the journalist Rick Sky, who interviewed Mercury quite a few instances over time, he mentioned, “To me, dullness is a illness. I would like hazard and pleasure. I used to be not made for staying indoors and watching tv. I’m positively a sexual individual. I used to say that I might go together with anybody, however I’ve turn into extra picky. I like to encompass myself with unusual and fascinating individuals, as a result of they make me really feel extra alive. Straight individuals bore me stiff. I like freaky individuals.”
This facet of him is actually portrayed within the film, nevertheless it’s by no means a trigger for happiness. To be queer is to know torment, by no means pleasure.
Bohemian Rhapsody retains Mercury within the closet, displaying solely uncommon, optimistic glimpses of his queer life (referring to intercourse and in any other case), and in doing so, the film paints his queerness as his undoing. Opposite to what the film reveals, Mercury by no means got here out to his dad and mom. He by no means made an official confession to the opposite members of Queen about his HIV standing. He very intentionally stored the queer elements of his life separate, so regardless of having members of Queen seek the advice of on the movie, the film outcomes to easily presenting probably the most stereotypical facets of queer life, and it does so by coating them in disgrace. Mercury’s undoing, in actuality, is spurred not by his queerness however by dwelling in a judgmental, illiberal world that required him to cover his id.
The movie does additional injury by depicting Paul Prenter, Mercury’s buddy, and for a time his supervisor, because the movie’s villain, complicit in Mercury’s downfall. Prenter pulls Mercury away from the band, pushing him towards a solo report deal by means of lies and deception. He plies him with medicine and alcohol. He additionally drives a wedge between Mercury and Austin, his rock. It is in these moments, when Prenter is guiding Mercury towards the queerest level of the movie, that his life spirals downward. Regardless of the booze, the medicine, and the informal intercourse, Mercury is introduced to the viewers with lifeless eyes. This queer new world is a soulless one.
The character of Paul Prenter falls into an extended historical past of queer (and queer-coded) villains in cinema. Queer characters have been so sometimes represented that it’s in these villains that many LGBTQ individuals noticed the primary glimpses of themselves onscreen: the murderous cannibal, Dr. Frank-N-Furter of The Rocky Horror Image Present; the exuberant but mincing Jafar from Aladdin; and Jame Gumb (aka Buffalo Invoice), the serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs. With Prenter working on the peak of his villainy, Mercury contracts AIDS and it’s in relation to AIDS that the movie feels most comfy totally exploring his sexuality.
When Rami Malek informed Into in October that Mercury by no means considered himself as a queer icon, that he by no means needed to be “boxed into something,” it presupposes that he had some other alternative. Mercury could not be open about who and the way he beloved throughout his life, and it is a disgrace that with all of the progress we have made since his demise, this film, which will probably be seen as a definitive testimony of his life, is just half the story.