Can anybody find Bohemian Rhapsody somebody to love? Not if it’s the censored cut of the film now playing in China.
The musical biopic, which traces the formation of Queen up through their iconic 1985 Live Aid performance and focuses most particularly on the life of frontman Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), opened Friday in the Middle Kingdom with one major change: Any scenes with references to Mercury’s sexuality or explicit physical contact between men have been removed, according to CNN and other outlets.
This censorship reportedly includes cutting any mention of the word “gay” from the film, as well as excising a scene in which the actors recreate the filming of the “I Want to Break Free” music video, which famously features Mercury and the other members of Queen in drag, satirizing bored housewives. Most crucially, it also cuts the major interactions between Mercury and his long-term partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker).
Many wondered if Bohemian Rhapsody would play in China at all. In 2016, Chinese censors banned the portrayal of anything they deemed “abnormal sexual behavior,” including same-sex relationships, in films and television. Homosexuality has been legal in China for over two decades, but screen censorship particularly as it pertains to Western imports is far more stringent.
LGBTQ content is regularly censored in China. Indeed, the Chinese streaming site Mango TV cut the phrase “gay man” from Rami Malek’s Oscar acceptance speech only last month. But it can sometimes be hit or miss: While Ang Lee’s groundbreaking gay film Brokeback Mountain was denied a Chinese release entirely, censors allowed the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast to keep its “exclusively gay moment.”
The censored version of Bohemian Rhapsody has generated varied responses, with some in China’s LGBTQ community declaring it a victory that the film is screening at all. Still, many others Stateside who have consistently decried the film’s lack of attention to Mercury’s sexuality say it furthers the point that the film erases Mercury’s LGBTQ identity if it’s so simple to scrub these moments from the final cut.
Fox, the studio behind Bohemian Rhapsody, did not immediately respond to request for comment.