Fact Check: What Bohemian Rhapsody Got Right and Wrong About Queer Icon Freddie Mercury’s Life
Despite winning the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and setting star Rami Malek up for a Best Actor Oscar win, Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t the most faithful biopic. Meant to shed light on Queen’s iconic frontman Freddie Mercury (Malek), the film seems less interested in providing context and texture to Mercury’s life and much more interested in being an Oscar-baity, high-energy concert, connected by narrative scenes that capture some truths of Mercury’s story — and some wild inaccuracies.
Perhaps the most glaring and widely criticized element of the film is its depiction — or lack thereof — of Mercury’s queerness. In addition to reinforcing the harmful "predatory gay person" stereotype and barely depicting the AIDS Crisis, the film fails to engage with what was surely a huge part of Mercury’s day-to-day life, as both a queer man and rockstar. While queer culture was on the fringes and not legitimized or accepted by a mainstream, straight/cis audience, that very same oppressive audience exploited queer entertainers like Mercury and David Bowie — holding them up on pedestals for their talent, but refusing to engage with who they were, as queer folks, offstage. "The emotional development of Mercury’s romance with Jim Hutton, his partner of seven years, is relegated to a single conversation," Aja Romano writes in their article for Vox. "Their entire loving, monogamous relationship is reduced onscreen to a single kiss and a brief hand squeeze."
While depicting a queer person’s relationships isn’t the be-all and end-all way to illustrate and explore their queerness — they are queer outside of any relationship, too — it’s still a frustrating example of how the film does a disservice to Mercury and the folks in his life. Instead of interrogating the way Mercury was simultaneously uplifted as a musician and marginalized as a queer man, the film actually perpetuates this exploitation by essentially straight-washing Mercury’s lived experience. Romano perhaps puts it best, writing, "What it really wants to be is a Queen concert, and what it really wants Freddie Mercury to be is a rock god instead of a real, queer human man."
So, what essential elements of Mercury’s life does Bohemian Rhapsody get right? And where else does it fumble? We’ve fact-checked a few of the film’s biggest moments and claims — read on to find out more.