Though Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody won him the 2019 Academy Award for Best Actor, some Twitter users are up in arms about the language he used to refer to the famed Queen frontman.
Malek beat out actors like A Star Is Born’s Bradley Cooper and Vice’s Christian Bale for the prestigious honor, which marked his first ever Oscar nomination and Oscar win. When he took the stage (to the very apropos tune of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”), he delivered a heartwarming speech, thanking his family, his cast and crew, and “everyone who has had a hand in getting me here.”
He also recognized the power of a biopic honoring a man like Mercury, who he called “a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself.” This, of course, is before he fell off the Oscars stage and had to be treated by paramedics, according to People magazine.
Unfortunately for Malek, that’s where the controversy begins: Mercury, both in real life and in the biopic, had relationships with both men and women. (The film didn’t feature any explicit gay sex or romance scenes, something plenty of LGBTQ cinephiles continue to take issue with; however, it did make hard-to-miss nods to his sexual fluidity.)
He’s frequently heralded today as one of the most famous bisexual men in recent history, and some believe Malek’s remark is just another example of bisexual erasure.
This Freddy Mercury BI ERASURE
— Kirsten King (@KirstenKing_) February 25, 2019
Freddie Mercury was unapologetically himself, as a bisexual man, yet Rami Malek erased his sexuality by calling him a gay man during his acceptance speech. But OKAY. #Oscars #LGBT #LGBTQ #BiErasure https://t.co/S6bKYWd4AK
— DB (@db) February 25, 2019
— The Tempest (@WeAreTheTempest) February 25, 2019
Freddie Mercury: <was literally one of the most famous bisexuals in history>
Rami Malek: "We made a film about a gay man…"
— McKenna Ferguson (@McKennaFerg) February 25, 2019
This is far from the first controversy to tarnish Bohemian Rhapsody’s legacy: The film’s original director, Bryan Singer, has been embroiled in messiness from the start, from his rumored on-set feud with Malek, to the disturbing allegations of sexual assault lodged against him in an exposé in The Atlantic. (Singer was eventually fired from the project.)
However, the biopic did become the highest grossing queer film of all time, breaking major ground at the box office.
Below, watch Bohemian Rhapsody producer Graham King chat with NewNowNext about whether the film is queer enough to constitute LGBTQ representation.