This year’s Academy Awards feature some of the most wide-open races in recent memory. Of the eight films nominated for best picture, several feel poised to snatch the trophy come Sunday night. But there’s at least one category that has felt sewn up, as the presumptive victor has won at award show after award show and delivered speech after speech: Rami Malek.
Malek is nominated for best actor for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury, the bisexual HIV-positive frontman of legendary rock band Queen, in the film Bohemian Rhapsody. So far, he’s won the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the SAG award, all major precursors to Oscar gold. There’s just one thing — his speeches have been a bit off. Despite playing a bisexual HIV-positive man in a film directed by Bryan Singer, neither of those points have not really come up in his speeches.
Here’s a guide for Malek about what would be best to include should he have to say his thank-yous Sunday night.
A Nod to the LGBTQ+ Community
During his BAFTA speech, Malek spoke about what it meant to be an outsider and called Mercury “the greatest outsider of them all.” And while that does seem like an at least thinly veiled reference to Mercury’s queerness, it’s not exactly good enough.
It’s odd that Malek would leave out Mercury’s sexuality, especially when he’s made pains to be inclusive of other people in his speeches. At the BAFTAs, he thanked the British people for letting him inhabit one of their finest musicians. “It’s not lost on me how sacred your musical heritage is, so thank you thank you thank you for including me,” he said. Yes, Mercury is part of a British musical legacy, but he’s also a part of a queer musical legacy, and that should be mentioned, too.
While you’re at it, just saying queer or LGBTQ+ isn’t really enough either. Given how common bisexual stigma and bisexual erasure are, it would be nice for Malek to make note that Mercury was an out bisexual man and either thank or acknowledge the bi+ community, as well.
Mention the HIV/AIDS Crisis
In the past, actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto received some criticism for playing people living with HIV while omitting any mention of the HIV/AIDS epidemic or people living with HIV from their early awards speeches. Leto eventually corrected course at the Oscars and stood in solidarity with those who have been affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis globally — though, he did use the word “victims,” so you can’t win them all, right? McConaughey did not mention HIV in his best actor speech.
Given that Bohemian Rhapsody has been roundly criticized for fudging some of the details of Mercury’s HIV diagnosis, Malek could right some wrongs and mention that this rocker that we all know and love was also living with one of the most highly stigmatized viruses in human history.
Address the Bryan Singer Controversy
Probably to play Oscar politics, Malek has chosen to distance himself from fired Bohemian Rhapsody director Bryan Singer, who was the subject of a harrowing exposé in The Atlantic that allowed multiple victims, many of them underage boys, to share allegations of sexual abuse by Singer. Malek spoke about Singer at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and said that his victims deserve to have their voices heard, but he has yet to mention his name in a major awards show speech.
Yes, this is Malek’s moment, but if he has chosen to stay mum on the subject for most of Oscar season to keep his awards campaign from ruin, then having already won the award is the best time to speak up. The burden of speaking about #MeToo in Hollywood should not rest solely on the shoulders of those who have been victimized and Malek could use his time on stage to set a new precedent on what people can do with their power.