Concerns have been expressed after a message appeared on Queen’s website announcing the movie, Bohemian Rhapsody: The Film. The message mentioned that charismatic and handsome Mr. Robot star Rami Malek would be playing Mercury, and that Singer would be recreating “the fabulous Queen years which brought us such unforgettable moments as Live Aid, which we can reveal will be faithfully recreated for a key sequence the film.”
The band’s Brian May and Roger Taylor are executive producers of the project, with pre-production already underway in the U.K., and shooting scheduled to begin in mid-September.
There was no mention in the post of the trajectory and harder truths of Mercury’s life: that of being a closeted pop star at a time of huge homophobia, who died of AIDS shrouded in self-chosen secrecy and seclusion. The nature of his illness, although the subject of much media speculation, was only confirmed the day before he died in a public statement.
It may not seem so long ago, but in terms of attitudes and prejudice it was a markedly different era, with severe stigma around both being an out celebrity (and the impact that could have on a career) and being HIV-positive. Mercury never fully came out whatever one deduced from his strutting, camp stage persona. Published last year, Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne’s book Somebody to Love: The Life, Death, and Legacy of Freddie Mercury grapples with Mercury’s sexuality, the prejudices of the time that helped keep him in the closet, and the history and impact of HIV and AIDS itself.
What May and Taylor, who are executive-producing the film, will focus on, and in what depth, remains to be seen. They were, and are, part of Queen, and have the power to edit and shape the movie at their will. Mercury when he was alive was fanatical about his privacy; a biography or biopic necessarily, at least to some degree, invades privacy, and so a true estimation and portrayal of Mercury’s life may well not be found in Bohemian Rhapsody: The Film. (Terrible, clunky title, by the way.)
The project has been beset by troubles. Attached to the project for six years, Sacha Baron Cohen dropped out of playing Mercury in 2013, claiming May was “an amazing musician, but not an amazing movie producer.”
In an interview with Howard Sternin March 2016, Cohen confirmed that while he had wanted a Mercury that portrayed the “nitty gritty” of Mercury’s life and character—his sexuality included—Queen did not want that.