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Bohemian Rhapsody is manipulative and betrays the significance of AIDS

The Queen biopic may have been recently nominated for a Golden Globe, but it suffers from serious flaws in how it represents the legendary frontman and his serious illness.

By Rhiannon Du Cann, Third Year, Liberal Arts

The Queen biopic may have been recently nominated for a Golden Globe, but it suffers from serious flaws in how it represents the legendary frontman and his serious illness.

I went to see the heavily anticipated and widely acclaimed Bohemian Rhapsody and it was inevitably an enjoyable cinematic experience. Then again, who doesn’t love Queen’s music? Adding to this, Rami Malek’s depiction of Freddie Mercury was spot on from his teeth to the ‘darling’ littering every sentence.

Freddie Mercury was an incredible person, and he led an incredible life which could produce several incredible films. Dwarves running around with plates of cocaine on their heads at his legendary parties would be at the bottom of the list of moments to include. But in Bohemian Rhapsody, his life is glamourised and oversimplified.

IMDb / Bohemian Rhapsody / Twentieth Century Fox

Worse, however, is that aspects of the film are categorically wrong. How the film shows Freddie Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis is particularly disappointing. Wearing a baseball cap and aviators, Mercury is inexplicably asked ‘do you know what that means?’ by his doctor. This is then portrayed as his motivation behind getting the band back together, after his bandmates, Brian May (Gwilym Lee), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) were alienated by his partying antics and ‘selfish’ solo career attempt.

The band seem hesitant: ‘They just need a bit of time,’ his manager tells him. ‘What if I don’t have time?’ Mercury responds. In the Americanised, chirpy mood of the film, the band are quickly convinced and come together for one, final Live Aid performance to conclude the film.

As nice as this all sounds, it is a total fabrication. According to his partner, Jim Sutton, Freddie Mercury was not diagnosed with AIDS until late April 1987 - two years after the Live Aid performance in 1985. The film sensationalises his AIDS diagnosis for the purpose of the plot. During the rehearsal for Live Aid, Mercury tells the band about his illness but says: ‘I'm not going to be anybody's victim, AIDS poster boy or cautionary tale.’ The scene ridiculously follows a montage of Freddie’s sex party lifestyle with abundant, leather-clad men - an irony I hope you will not miss.

The nitty gritty of Freddie Mercury’s life is airbrushed and the whole film, as a result, feels too PG-13, driven by an attempt to appeal to the masses. Don’t forget, Sasha Baron Cohen allegedly dropped out of the project for this very reason; he had hoped for a more warts and all approach.

While AIDS is not the main topic of this film - I am not saying it should have been - it’s uncomfortable in how it is brazenly included. It is slightly irksome that, arguably, the most famous, recent film about AIDS is Dallas Buyers Club (2013) which is from the perspective of a straight, white man - again a dubious historical biopic of Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey. Beats Per Minute (2017) is centred around an AIDS activist group in Paris in 1990 but it’s in French so, naturally, is unheard of by the English speaking majority. ‘Wish it was in English,’ deplores one commenter on the YouTube advert – doesn’t that just say it all?

Youtube / Madman Films

We may be in 2018 but let’s not forget: some people still find AIDS an awkward topic. It’s still used as the butt of people’s jokes, as insults and even - in the darker corners of the internet - as memes. This attitude might be diminished if it wide-reaching media the illness accurately and increased public awareness of the harrowing experience it was and can still be. Few would even dream about mocking cancer due to the sincere coverage and prominence it has, yet AIDS receives this mistreatment.

Of course, no one’s life should be diminished to or defined by their illness, certainly not the life of a true legend like Mercury. However, Bohemian Rhapsody is wrong to twist the events and a serious illness for the neatness of its plot; either accurately depict the experience or leave it out altogether.

Featured Image: IMDb / Bohemian Rhapsody / Twentieth Century Fox

Do you think AIDS needs to be treated with more respect in the media?

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