It’s rather hard, if not impossible, to separate the legend of rock god Freddie Mercury from his openly queer sexuality.
But China has apparently managed to pull it off, censoring around four minutes of footage from last year’s award-winning blockbuster biopic Bohemian Rhapsody in an attempt to sanitize the film, according to Chinese filmgoers who spot to Australia’s ABC.
The result is a film that not only removes any mention of the Queen frontman’s pansexuality but also leaves out his AIDS diagnosis, the most intimate scenes depicting his same-sex relationships, and scenes where drug references are made–diminishing the accuracy and truthfulness of the film.
For Chinese fans who had seen the original cut–which had itself come under criticism from advocates for whitewashing and distorting Mercury’s story–the changes to the film removed some of the key moments of the film, leaving major holes in the plot.
Mercury’s breakup with his long-time girlfriend Mary Austin was the result of a long-term relationship with another man. Yet in the censored cut, the crucial scene of Mercury coming out to her is completely left out, leaving a big question mark over their separation.
And while it had long been known that Bohemian Rhapsody would face some cuts in China–with The Hollywood Reporter claiming last month that about a minute would be cut to appease censors–it remained a mystery as to which scenes would ultimately be removed.
Even implicit references to Mercury’s sexuality were slashed from the theatrical release of the film, including a rather innocuous scene of Mercury, depicted by Oscar-winner Rami Malek, standing on stage with a mic stand near his crotch.
In the scene that recreated the Queen 1984 smash hit single I Want to Break Free, band members famously dressed in drag–a clip that was likewise removed from the film.
Scenes showing Mercury’s relationship with long-term partner Jim Hutton were almost entirely removed from the film, with even a historic photo of the actual Hutton and Mercury being removed from the credits sequence.
Chinese fans are aggrieved at the egregious nature of the removals.
Felil Xie, a 28-year-old gay man from Beijing who adored the original film, told ABC that the censors gave the film a “devious treatment.”
“It is seriously and obviously out of context, where many scenes in the film didn’t make any sense at all.”
China long ago decriminalized homosexuality, yet depictions of same-sex relations and intimacy remain banned from most media–with advocates waging struggles just to be able to post gay content on social media.
Xie remains concerned that such moves by authorities to bury content concerning the LGBTQI community will simply add to the challenges of a group that is seeking basic rights–forcing them to fight for recognition from the margins and shadows of China’s conservative environment. Xie said:
“But the censors consider us as a ‘special group’ of people, whose stories are not allowed to be told in films, on the TV or even in some books.
It is sad that they use power to hide our existence.”