Is 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' the Biggest Gay Film in History, Actually Gay?

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

The tally is in and reports say Bohemian Rhapsody, Twentieth Century Fox’s Freddie Mercury biopic released earlier this year, is the the highest grossing LGBTQ film of all time. It flew by other top films including The Birdcage, Interview with the Vampire, and the source of many wet dreams, Brokeback Mountain. (Over the weekend, it also became the most successful music biopic ever, shooting past $600 million worldwide.)

But the jury is still out on exactly how gay, if at all, is Bohemian Rhapsody.

The film, which stars Rami Malek in the lead role, chronicles the rise of a musical icon and the many ups and downs of life with his Queen bandmates. It captures many of his relationships with men and women throughout his life as well as his HIV/AIDS diagnosis and the group’s now-infamous 1985 Live Aid performance at London's Wembley Stadium.

So, there are definitely LGBTQ themes at play in the film. But is it a win for us that deserves all the cis-het praise it’s getting?

Detractors of the picture’s queer identity — which is no comment on Malek’s perplexing, yet award-nominated performance — assert the film demonizes Mercury’s sexuality at best. At worse, it erases the complexities of his bisexuality altogether. Many cite an emotional scene in which the singer says to his fiancée Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), “I think I’m bisexual.” She responds, “No, Freddie. You’re gay.”

“The film addressing bi erasure with a scene like the one described could have been a powerful statement,” said Into contributor Juan Barquin. “Instead, it confirms this dismissal of his sexuality by never allowing Mercury to date or sleep with another woman, even though it is well-documented that he had.”

Indiewire contributor Jude Dry added that by projecting an “either/or view” of sexuality, “the movie reinforces a heteronormative view of queerness, and says it through a straight mouthpiece.”

At Billboard, Stephen Daw pushed back, saying the scene is an accurate portrayal of what life can be like for bisexual people. “It is made to be real [as] the singer spent most of his life battling the public, the press and even some in his personal life about how he chose to identify himself,” he said. “Many labeled him as gay, some denied his queerness, and very few chose to validate his inherent bisexuality. It’s upsetting to watch on screen because real life is often more bleak than fantasy.”

Other critics of the film cite its entire portrayal of queerness and queer people as toxic, a form of LGBTQ representation that shouldn’t be applauded in any circumstance.

“The movie reduces queer identity to a series of promiscuous sexual encounters, which it consistently frames as sordid, shameful, illicit, and corrupting,” said Vox’s Aja Romano. “It also builds a whole annoying subplot around the ‘predatory gay villain’ trope, which is a tired, obnoxious cliché that in Bohemian Rhapsody is even more problematic than usual because it’s used to imply that Mercury, a real-life gay man, was somehow corrupted into becoming queer by an opportunistic music industry parasite who doesn’t really care about Freddie at all.”

But The Guardian’s Gary Nunn questions if he saw a different movie altogether. “I thought it dealt sensitively with many of these topics without making them the overall focus. What homophobia were people seeing in the film? As someone who used to manage Stonewall’s communications and campaign to promote fair and accurate representation of LGBTQI people in the media, I thought this was a job well done.”

All thoughts considered, it appears there is no clear consensus on if Bohemian Rhapsody is good for the gays. What we know for sure: It’s no Love, Simon.

Related: Rami Malek Talks Becoming Freddie Mercury for Bohemian Rhapsody

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