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Accusations of “Straight-Washing” Plague New Freddie Mercury Biopic Upon Release of Trailer

But hey, it's just the trailer... are we getting a little ahead of ourselves?

Marilyn Drew Necci | May 17, 2018

The trailer for the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody — surely one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year both within and outside of the LGBTQ community — has been released, and while it’s gotten a lot of people excited, it’s also made a lot of people upset.

One notable critic of the trailer was TV producer Bryan Fuller, of American Gods and Hannibal fame, who tweeted, “ANYONE ELSE MILDLY ANNOYED (enough to tweet about it) THAT THE #BohemianRapsody TRAILER FEATURES GAY/BI SUPERSTAR FREDDIE MERCURY FLIRTING WITH AND TWIRLING WITH A WOMAN BUT NO INDICATION OF HIS LOVE OF MEN?”

Fuller also criticized the official description of the film from 20th Century Fox, which referred only to the disease that Mercury succumbed to in 1981 as “a life-threatening illness.” “DEAR 20TH CENTURY FOX… Yes, it was a life-threatening illness, but more specifically it was AIDS. From having gay sex with men. Do better. #HETWASHING #BohemianRapsody”

But does the trailer really merit all of this furor? Let’s watch it ourselves right now and find out.

Well, it’s a trailer. The Advocate said “Blink and you’ll miss Freddie Mercury’s queerness,” but it seems as if you’ll have to have a nimble finger on the pause button to catch much relating to his love life here. Yes, there’s the shot of him twirling with a woman — presumably the same woman who stares at him in awe as he takes the stage earlier in the film, though I honestly can’t tell — but there’s also a shot of him getting up close and personal with a man in front of a piano. And there’s even a shot of some other dude throwing something at a rapidly retreating limo, which could be a lot of things including a scene of a bad breakup.

But really, who knows? Most of what we can learn from this trailer is that the music is going to be the biggest part of this film — especially “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which gave the film its title and for better or for worse seems to have become Queen’s enduring legacy (“Under Pressure” and “Somebody To Love” are both significantly better, if you ask me, but that’s just one reporter’s opinion). And honestly, that’s as it should be. Freddie Mercury was an interesting man who lived an interesting life, but a lot of what made that life so interesting was the high quality of music he created over his two-decade career.

Plus, as twitter user @spiderine pointed out in response to Fuller’s tweets, “He wasn’t ‘gay/bi.’ He was bi. That’s how he identified: please respect his identity.” The Advocate mentions that a woman Mercury had a relationship with in his youth named Mary Austin was identified by Mercury as “the love of his life” in the biography Somebody To Love: The Life, Death, and Legacy of Freddie Mercury by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne.

Indeed, it could be argued that giving us glimpses of affairs with both men and women is the best way for the trailer to depict Mercury’s lived experience as a bisexual man. Technically, Mercury never came out of the closet publicly, and we can’t really know how he would identify if he were alive today. However, the facts of his life find him loving both men and women, so it’s only fair for the film to reflect that.

In the end, we won’t know the full truth of the way Bohemian Rhapsody handles Mercury’s life, loves, and death until the movie is released. If it does a poor job, if Mercury’s LGBTQ identity is de-emphasized or his death from AIDS is glossed over, we’ll all be on board to criticize it then. But until the film is released on November 2, it might be more appropriate to hold our fire.

For now, let’s just listen to some of Freddie Mercury’s excellent music. Here’s “Somebody To Love,” from classic Queen album A Day At The Races (1976).