Freddie Mercury biopic trailer: killer Queen or queerwashed cop-out?

Guardian Web |

Is this the real trailer? Is this just fantasy? A film once caught in a landslide, after disagreements with cast (Sacha Baron Cohen departed acrimoniously) and crew (director Bryan Singer was fired earlier this year), looks like it has finally managed to get back on track. And here to prove it is a shiny Queen-approved trailer, which would appear to belie Freddie Mercury’s assertion that there’s “no escape from reality”.

When Baron Cohen quit the film, he made sure to shoot it in the foot, by going public with the fact that certain people wanted the film to be more about the great successes of the still very current band Queen than about the extraordinary and non-PG-friendly life of the guy who was their frontman before Adam Lambert. The trailer would seem to support his claims.

It opens on footage of Freddie Mercury in concert at various moments in his career with Queen, singing a call-and-response refrain that’s chanted back to him by a rapturous audience. There’s no opportunity to focus particularly on the face of Rami Malek as Mercury in these opening moments: we’re in the business of witnessing the guy as rock star, in a quickly spliced montage with lots of costume changes, waving arms and our first glimpse, on the drumkit, of the word “Queen”, which will appear a grand total of five times in the trailer.

Next we get a change of music, title cards, and our second look at the word “Queen”, this time in glossy closeup. At this point, I don’t know about you but I’m beginning to get the distinct impression that Freddie Mercury may have been in Queen. The trailer then merges into a mashup of Bohemian Rhapsody and Another One Bites the Dust, over a succession of images including a sexy exchange of looks between Freddie Mercury and a woman in the audience, whom we see again near him a couple of frames later. A glancing touch of hands between Mercury and a man follows a little later still. Quick gender recap at the 0:30 mark: women two, men one. Mama mia, mama mia, mama mia, let me go.



A caption comes up in big letters – this is going to be good. “The Only Thing… More Extraordinary … Than Their Music … Is His Story” More extraordinary than? Surely that should be “as extraordinary as”.

There's nothing of Mercury’s love life? is said?, ?no? illness, no emotion, nothing dangerous or overtly queer to offend anyone

The montage ends, and there follows some guff about the writing of the song Bohemian Rhapsody, which we are told contains an operatic section (in the only line in the trailer spoken by Freddie Mercury) and is over six minutes long, which proves displeasing to a music executive. A band member who isn’t Brian May or Freddie Mercury (Dave … Bridges? Mike … Benton? Alan … Jones?) makes a 4/10, heterosexist wisecrack at the boring exec, then the trailer is back on music business, closing out with the Brian May-written We Will Rock You, in order to signal to the audience that Queen will rock us.

To misquote Freddie Mercury: do stop this now, I’m having such a bad time. Not a word of dialogue is spoken in the trailer that doesn’t pertain to the music of Queen: nothing of Mercury’s love life, no illness, no emotion, nothing dangerous or overtly queer to offend anyone. To quote Brian May: big disgrace! The whole thing has the flavour of something strenuously queerwashed, which has removed everything wild and interesting about Mercury. This trailer would appear to presage a film with no interest in sounding the ambiguities of his life, the abrasive queerness of his perspective, the virulence of the homophobic press in their attacks on him – what, in a word, made him tick.

If the film remains true to this trailer, it represents a truly tragic lost opportunity to celebrate an ambiguous and excitingly transgressive figure, whose tragically short life was filled with incident. Mercury deserves to be celebrated as a queer icon quite beyond the machismo and daddishness of Queen fandom. From his origins as a Farsi man of colour to his underexamined private life, via his struggle with Aids at the height of the epidemic that claimed so many LGBTQ lives, we need to know more about this figure. Not for nothing has Bryan Fuller already attacked the film for these seeming omissions.

On the other hand, there is a proud tradition in the queer community of reclaiming cultural artefacts such as this, and the film could become a true camp classic a la Mommie Dearest, with queer audiences screaming along to all the bowdlerised bits. We await it with feverish excitement.

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