The excellent Freddie Mercury biopic surpasses all expectations and brings us Queen's unforgettable frontman in all his bisexual glory.
Ash Griffith | November 8, 2018
We will never have another musician like Freddie Mercury. Even David Bowie — Ziggy Stardust himself — once said that there is no one quite like him. At least, not until Rami Malek came into the picture.
This past weekend, Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Malek, was released into theaters. Unlike average musical biopics, which would start from the day Mercury was born and not end until he gave his last breath, Rhapsody hits to the meat of the story quick. It shows how Mercury met all of the key people in his life (Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon, Mary Austin, and Jim Hutton), and how he evolved as a person over time.
A lot of criticism is calling it a lukewarm biopic, but I disagree. What made Freddie Mercury who he was wasn’t just his insane vocals and magnetizing stage presence (although those certainly helped and played a part), but his natural charm and the fact that he was so unapologetically human. He was unabashed with his love for his mother, and the irreplaceable Mary Austin (who was his muse for so many songs, including “Love of My Life”).
I think a lot of what is being glossed over is how two of the arguably most important aspects of Mercury’s life — his sexual identity and his battle with AIDS — were dealt with. I think everyone, including myself, were prepared to see both of them handled terribly. I was surprised and relieved by Bohemian Rhapsody‘s treatment of both.
My eyes got so wide when I actually heard Malek’s Mercury tell Mary Austin these exact words: “I’m bisexual, Mary.” Most trailers made it look like the film was going to wash away Mercury’s sexuality; even when we got a quick glimpse of him with Paul Prenter (Mercury’s personal manager, with whom he had a long affair), it was easy to assume that this was going to be a story about how Mercury finally realized he was gay this whole time.
But that wouldn’t have been accurate. Spoiler Alert: Freddie Mercury was bisexual, not gay. Most people genuinely don’t know this fun fact, and some consciously choose to ignore it. But Bohemian Rhapsody addressed it head-on.
I was so shocked that it actually happened, that those words were said on the screen of a major film. People, especially in our own community, tend to roll their eyes when bisexuals and pansexuals get upset over whether or not their identities are specifically represented. But the thing is, we need them. We honest-to-god need them in order to be seen, to feel heard, to feel valid.
I know the choir behind me is rolling its eyes right now, but — this isn’t what I was expecting: to have one of the most famous bisexuals in music history say these words in his biopic. Which, might I add, became a major film that smashed the shit out of the box office with $50 million in its opening weekend.
Yes. It is validating as hell. And I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel good, too.
Outside of the words themselves, the way Mercury’s sexuality was handled on screen felt very much like Freddie himself. It was subtle, but obvious at the same time. The film made it clear to you on a silver platter, with no additional description necessary.
And this — this is how you show bisexuals and pansexuals on the screen. We don’t need to see five orgies accompanied by the implication that this is a track toward gayness. We just need the reminder that our sexual identity is real, true and, above all else, valid. Full stop. Bohemian Rhapsody gives this to us, where so many other films fail to.
Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis was handled in similar fashion. It was subtle, it wasn’t discussed at large, but it was still damn clear to the audience what was going on. It was very reminiscent of the way Satine’s tuberculosis was handled in Moulin Rouge! You saw it, you saw her suffer, you knew what was going on, and that was enough.
The only time AIDS was directly addressed was toward the end when, much like he did in real life, Mercury tells May, Taylor, and Deacon that he is dying. Many have criticized the fact that it wasn’t addressed more; but given the way, when Mercury was alive, he went to great lengths to avoid discussing it, even with his loved ones, I think the choice was very appropriate for him and this film.
Mercury tells record exec Ray Foster (given an interesting portrayal by Mike Myers of all people) and numerous members of the press that Queen’s music is for the outcasts. I can’t think of a better way to describe Queen’s music, and the reason it is so powerful and magnetizing to so many people. Queen wrote music that felt unique, and attracted those who felt like they didn’t quite belong anywhere else.
Even though he wasn’t an overt ally to the LGBTQ community when he was alive, both Mercury and this film itself were for us all along. As the midterm elections bring us various glimmers of hope, including Colorado electing its first gay governor, there is one thing we should remember:
We will always be the champions. And the show will go on.