I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody over the weekend. The film is about the band Queen and the life of their celebrated front-man, Freddie Mercury. I thought it was great; in-fact, I’ve spontaneously broken out in Queen songs ever since, singing “Galileo, Galileo, Galileo Figaro” as I’m driving to work. But there are many critics who don’t share that sentiment.
Bohemian Rhapsody was conceptualized in 2010 already, but the road towards making it happen doesn’t seem to have been an easy one. Difficulties such as creative differences between those involved in the project initially hindered it from getting off the launch pad. Borat star, Sacha Baron Cohen was originally first in line to play Freddie Mercury. But he and the members of Queen couldn’t agree on the type of film they wanted to make, which caused him to abandon the project. Stephen Frears, who was one of the directors involved in the early stages of production said that “Sacha wanted to make a very outrageous film, which I would imagine Freddie Mercury would have approved of.” Cohen wanted to make a tell-all, R-rated film that highlighted Freddie Mercuries extreme lifestyle whereas, according to Cohen, the surviving members of Queen “wanted to protect their legacy as a band.”
Before Bohemian Rhapsody was released, many were concerned that it wouldn’t accurately portray Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality and death from AIDS. After the first trailer was released, writer and director Bryan Fuller tweeted: “Anyone else mildly annoyed that the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ trailer features gay/bi superstar Freddie Mercury flirting with and twirling with a woman but no indication of his love of men?”
AIDS activists also weren’t too happy with the film. An organisation named ACT UP protested at premiere of Bohemian Rhapsody. According to campaigner Dan Glass, “people got in touch saying have you heard about this film? There’s such little mention of HIV and AIDS throughout the entire thing”. He also added that “A lot of us are HIV positive, or we’ve lost loved ones due to AIDS. Freddie Mercury was a HIV positive migrant. This film was an opportunity to address that.”
I can imagine how difficult it must be to tell such a story. How do you take a complex individual such as Freddie Mercury and fit all the nuanced details of his life, his musical career, his sexuality, his struggles and his triumphs into a 2 hour film? And how do you tell the story in a way that’s still entertaining, but also fairly accurate? And how do you make everyone happy with the final product when everyone seems to have their own agenda?
Sacha Baron Cohen wanted the film to focus on Mercury’s debaucherous lifestyle while Queen probably felt that the music and their journey as a band was more important. Different people with different agendas all wanted it to be, not only Freddie Mercury’s story, but their story. The gay community wanted the film to tell their story and AIDS activists wanted it to tell their story. But what we end up with is a film about a man, but no one except those who knew him the best can tell exactly where the historical man ends and the legendary man begins.
This made me think about the Jesus story. People have often accused me of being anti-Christian or anti-God, but I can assure you that I’m neither of those. I like to believe that a Jewish Rabbi named Jesus lived in ancient Palestine. I also like to believe that he was an enlightened and revolutionary human being who had a massive impact on the culture of his day; kind of like a first century, Jewish Freddie Mercury… or maybe not quite.
For the most part, I love Jesus and I love his story. But there is no doubt in my mind that the line between history and legend has been blurred to such an extent that we can’t say for sure where the historical Jesus ends and the legendary Jesus begins. I can imagine that people were so inspired by him that they wanted to tell his story. At the same time they also wanted it to be their story that furthered their agenda. There were political, religious and cultural agendas that influenced how the story was told.