You shouldn’t like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but you probably will anyway
No one told the filmmakers behind “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the new film about queer icon Freddie Mercury, that this is 2018. The Motion Picture Production Code is long gone; the lives of queer people can be depicted as something beyond tragic. We no longer have to die by the end of the movie.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was disappointing, but that didn't stop me. I still had myself such a good time.
This biopic is bi-phobic. At every turn, “Bohemian Rhapsody” presents Mercury's life as tragic because of his participation in queer culture. Instead of celebrating his queer identity, the film recycles tired tropes of queerness as a threat.
First, Mercury's bisexuality destroys his most meaningful romantic relationship, one with a woman. Then, he is manipulated and betrayed by his only queer confidant. Mercury's hesitance to disclose his sexuality is framed as deception, rather than a rational response to a homophobic society.
Finally, Mercury's sexuality threatens his own life when he contracts HIV. Never is queer culture depicted as a positive influence on his music.
The film is rather racist, too. It depicts Mercury's Parsi family as hostile to his sexuality and gender expression because of their culture and religion. Because no other form of queer antagonism is ever presented, Parsi culture becomes a scapegoat for the hate Mercury experienced. A more accurate film might have mentioned that Mercury would have been well aware that Elton John's career went from untouchable to second-tier after he came out.
Whatever pressures Mercury faced from his family paled in comparison to the challenge of trying to navigate a music industry that was hostile to queer artists even though it couldn't exist without them.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” even manages to be a tad transphobic by staging Mercury's break with his band in the context of their drag music video.
I'd be impressed how thoroughly this film smears the life it sets out to celebrate if I weren't disgusted – and unsurprised. This is how queer icons have long been portrayed.
Queer and trans people deserve a better film about Freddie Mercury, but I'm not sorry that I saw this one. “Bohemian Rhapsody” accidentally illustrates the deepest truth about Mercury's career: His music was indestructible. Nothing can ruin Queen, especially not for queer and trans people.
Queen's music celebrated queer and trans life at a time when overtly queer content wasn't commercially viable. They might play “We Are the Champions” at football games, but the song was designed to get us pumped to be ourselves in a hostile world. Freddie Mercury gave us music for exactly the times that we're living in today.
Go see "Bohemian Rhapsody,” or don't. Whatever you decide, put on your tightest jeans, crank your stereo and remember that Freddie Mercury's gender and sexuality were a part of his magic, not his undoing.