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China release of Bohemian Rhapsody disappoints gay community

The Chinese release of Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic on British rock band Queen, has left many in China’s gay community disheartened, as censors scrubbed a key part of the protagonist’s story — his sexuality. Multiple gay scenes in the film about iconic musician Freddie Mercury were dropped, including a pivotal moment when he comes out to his wife. Romantic scenes between two men, such as a kiss shared by Mercury and his personal assistant, were also erased.

“The Chinese release is no different from a fabricated story,” said Hua Zile, founder of Voice of China LGBT, a media and advocacy platform for China’s gay community with over a million followers on Twitter-like Weibo. The censored film “disrespects the real experience of the character”, he told AFP. “For gay people in the country, this is a huge regret.”

In China, it is common for films to undergo a strict approval process and see scenes cut before receiving a greenlight for release. Gay-themed films often struggle to make it into movie theatres, while same-sex relationships are banned from television screens and gay content is forbidden on online streaming platforms. China only decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, and withdrew it from its list of mental illnesses in 2001. Same-sex marriage remains illegal. But restrictions on LGBT-themed films and online content have increased over the past few years, say LGBT advocacy groups.

“For the LGBT community, this is a setback,” said Duan, media manager at the Beijing LGBT Center, who gave his surname only, citing the sensitivity of the matter. “There is no way to freely spread or share (LGBT) related content,” he told AFP, adding that the organization has struggled to upload advocacy videos on streaming sites. Other LGBT-themed films have faced similar restrictions as Bohemian Rhapsody, though it can be difficult to “know where the line is,” added Hua.

Last year, Oscar-winning “Call Me by Your Name”, a story of a summer romance between two young men in Italy, was pulled from the Beijing International Film Festival. In May, online video service MangoTV cut out a gay-themed dance from its broadcast of the Eurovision contest. The video platform also censored the Chinese subtitles of Rami Malek’s speech when he won the best actor Oscar for his performance as Freddie Mercury.

In a recently uploaded video of the award speech, the Chinese subtitles simply ignore Malek’s line on creating a film about “a gay man”. Still, despite the censorship, Chinese moviegoers have embraced Bohemian Rhapsody, which is ranked in the top five after its release last week. According to the China Movie Data Information Network, an official site that tracks ticket sales, the Queen biopic has netted around 53.7 million yuan ($8 million) so far.

For some viewers, especially those who were not familiar with Queen and Mercury’s story, the censorship was not apparent enough to take away from the experience. “I didn’t realize it was censored,” said Dian Dian, a moviegoer in Beijing who saw the film on Wednesday. “I just thought they had shot it in a very subtle way.” – AFP

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