A couple weeks back I decided to redeem one of many gift certificates I had for Landmark Theaters, which have gone unused since Sunshine Cinema on Houston closed last January. I planned to see Can You Ever Forgive Me? So, amid chilled wind, I trekked way out West on 57th only to find the 2:30 show sold out. Not willing to wait around for the next screening, I chose to see Bohemian Rhapsody instead.
There were poignant moments: scenes of hard core rockers en masse holding flames to a barely closeted queer hero. This brought me cheer. But the film’s politics troubled me. Beyond the neo-colonialist celebration of “Live Aid,” the serious question should be: Does this film promote homophobia?
Of course the protagonist is Freddy Mercury, a brilliant artist and gay man, but consider the villain, Paul Prenter. Prenter is blamed for the “decadent” lifestyle Mercury led until being “saved” by monogamous partner Jim Hutton, who (we are told in the closing credits) stayed with Mercury while he was dying of AIDS.
Isn’t this precisely the trope that dominated the hateful rhetoric of the ’80s? Blaming AIDS on gay men for their “habit” of sex with multiple partners? Isn’t this why queer activists have long been ambivalent about marriage–not just its patriarchal legacy but its reification of a heteronormative hierarchy where queer folks who desire less conventional forms of pleasure are further marginalized?
Sure Prenter’s sellout to the tabloids was a vulgar betrayal, but one could also read him as a victim similar to Fassbinder’s character in Faustrecht der Freiheit: a working class boy who’d worn out his welcome.
I’m happy we are in a time when the sexuality of rock stars is hardly controversial, but this film takes us back to a darker time without much critique.