The creative team behind the Oscar-winning Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody has received an unexpected surprise from the government of China: permission to be released there. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 20th Century Fox mega-hit received clearance on Wednesday morning to be released theatrically, which was a bit of a shock to industry insiders as the Chinese government is known for suppressing films and television shows that touch on LGBTQ themes and feature characters that are openly gay.
Indeed, just as the news about Bohemian Rhapsody being given the official sanction for release was lighting up social media in China, another story about a streaming company there censoring star Rami Malek’s use of the phrase “gay man” during his Oscar acceptance speech was making the rounds.
And while the news of the smash hit’s release in China sometime in mid-March is certainly welcome for the film’s creators and financial backers, Chinese audiences aren’t going be seeing exactly the same movie as the rest of the world. THR is reporting that at least one minute of cuts will be made to the film, removing depictions of kissing between Malek’s Mercury character and other male characters, as well as depictions of drug use.
Another strange caveat associated with the film being released in China is that, unlike in the rest of world where it has been a big-screen hit, in China, it is only to be given limited, art-house release. The film’s release is going to be coordinated with China’s National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas (NAAC), which only reaches some 1,200 screens out of an estimated 50,000 total across China. The previous biggest art-house release in China was last year’s Cannes winner Shoplifters, which took in some $14 million there.
With Bohemian Rhapsody already having grossed $862 million worldwide and proving to be the highest-grossing music biopic in film history, it would seem a strange choice indeed to hamstring the film’s release in a nation of nearly a billion and a half people.
But China’s censorship regarding LGBTQ-themed films has not always been consistent. Previously, 2005’s Brokeback Mountain was banned outright despite Taiwan-born director Ang Lee being a beloved figure there. However, the government did famously allow a controversial “gay moment” in the live-action portrayal of Beauty and the Beast to sail past censors and run in theaters in 2017.
The Communist government even seemed to take pride in its tolerance and openness over that move, with the government-controlled The People’s Daily newspaper tweeting, “Controversial gay moment kept in Disney’s #BeautyAndTheBeast… requires no guidance for minor audience.”