‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Just Broke Records for the Highest-Grossing LGBTQ Film Ever Made

The Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody became the highest-grossing LGBTQ film in box office history, according to the Washington Blade.

Earning $127 million domestically and an estimated $384 million globally, Bohemian Rhapsody broke a previous box office record for LGBTQ-themed films that was held by The Birdcage, a 1996 Robin Williams-starring remake of La Cage Aux Folles.

The film also broke barriers by topping foreign box offices in at least 12 countries with explicitly anti-LGBTQ laws: Bolivia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Paraguay, Poland, and Slovakia.

The Queen-themed rock film also became the second highest-grossing music biopic of all time, following close on the heels of the 2015 rap biopic Straight Outta Compton. But the Freddie Mercury film is only just entering its fourth week in theaters, and already knocked the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line out of second place in the music category.

It’s unclear what defines a film as LGBTQ, especially as more films add LGBTQ characters and storylines. But in past analyses of top-grossing LGBTQ films, GLAAD has categorized them as “Movies that primarily deal with homosexual themes or where the main characters are gay.”

Even as Bohemian Rhapsody dons its crown as the most money-making queer film ever, the movie has been the target of ongoing criticism over the way it portrays Mercury’s sexuality and his experience with HIV and AIDS.

Critics — like Sorry To Bother You director Boots Riley — have questioned why the film leans on the concept of Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis as his downfall in the film, even though Mercury did not learn his HIV status until well after the events depicted in the movie.

And many in the LGBTQ community were disappointed by lead actor Rami Malek’s response when asked by INTO whether Freddie Mercury, who he portrays in the film, is a gay icon.

“Ummm…I don’t…I think the way…what’s really great about him is he never, uh, wanted to, or thought of himself as being boxed into anything,” Malek told INTO in a late October interview before the film’s release. “He just was. I mean, he even…I’ve heard him say, you know, when asked, he says ‘I’m just me.'”

“Icon, I think, encompasses whatever, uh…the way you identify,” said Malek.

Riding in Cars With Moms

If there’s an origin story behind the myth that gays can’t drive, perhaps it lies in the fact that our moms drove us everywhere. Much of my childhood was spent in my family’s Chevy Blazer listening to disco and running errands with my mother. Mostly, we ran errands on Sundays. My mother and I drove over the Bayonne Bridge from New Jersey to Staten Island for church. My mother, a devout Christian, would only worship at a place she absolutely loved, so every Sunday, we’d pay the toll to cross into another state, even though the journey took all of 10 minutes.

I thought about my mother and my many passenger-side journeys while watching several recent movies. Some of our most beloved actresses are portraying loving, complicated mothers in this year’s slate of awards fare. Nicole Kidman shepherds Lucas Hedges back and forth to conversion therapy classes in Boy Erased. Julia Roberts chauffeurs Lucas Hedges (once again!) while he’s on the lam from rehab in Ben Is Back. And Maura Tierney chases an elusive Timothee Chalamet in a soccer mom van for the most thrilling five minutes of Beautiful Boy.

On some level, this feels like a waste of these actresses’ considerable talent. Why hire Nicole or Julia or sweet Maura when you’re just gonna shove them behind a wheel for most of the film? And on some level, you’d be right. But on another, the car feels like a perfect setting for mother-son character work, if based solely on my own experience as a queer youth.

Traditionally, the kitchen table is thought of as the place for conversation. Families gather there and have deep heart to hearts (and I’ve been there, too.) But there’s something about the claustrophobia of the car — just you, another person and the road — that inspires a deep talk. And, with queer youth, there’s always a conversation to be had with a parent. Maybe it’s because parents of queer youth are always guessing about their own children, or maybe it’s because queer youth are always hiding something from our parents. One thing you learn in fiction writing class is that, in any scene, each character has to have a clear vision of what they want. And when two characters interact, and they each want something out of each other, they have to talk until they get there. Where better for that kind of action than a moving vehicle?

After thinking so much about this year’s slate of car-based acting, I thought about the previous year and the scenes it brought us as well. Maybe one of the most memorable scenes of cinema in 2017 was Saoirse Ronan as Lady Bird catapulting herself out of the passenger’s side of her mom, Laurie Metcalf’s, car.

Lady Bird, of course, is not gay, though you’d be hard pressed to convince me she doesn’t read as queer. (And even if she weren’t queer, enough people saw themselves in Ronan’s portrayal that the argument here holds water.) Part of Lady Bird’s frustration, and what propels her out of a moving vehicle, is that gap between parent and child, that chasm that sometimes feels too far to be bridged. And while it’s a bit too far to say that there’s something inherently queer about that gap, it’s not too far to say that that gap feels inherent to queer adolescence. If you spend your entire adolescence trying to figure yourself out, then how are we supposed to clue others in to what’s going on around us?

My mother and I didn’t speak much about my sexuality growing up. But one day, when I was 12 years old, she picked me up from soccer practice and I was crying. Soccer practice was already an emotional experience for me. A lot of the other boys from school were on my team. I was bullied in school for being too femme all the time. And while in school, I felt at least academically superior to my bullies, on the soccer field, I was an uncoordinated mess. It didn’t help that, on some level, I knew my mom had signed me up for this torture because she was afraid of me evolving from a fat kid to a fat adult. So, she thought, she’d get me active.

Anyway, back to the story. So my mom picks me up and I’m crying. She asks why.

“Everyone keeps calling me gay,” I told her, sobbing. My mom, at that point, was a little silent with me. Looking back on it, she knew this day would come when I would have to say that word out loud. And I know that she had been building up to some kind of speech about it.

I don’t remember exactly what she said to comfort me, but it was some kinda work ethic-based talk about how even if I were gay, I could be just as good at sports or school or anything as anybody else. I remember her saying that there were rumors for years that Mike Piazza of the Mets was gay, but who cares — he goes out there and does his job just as good, if not better, than anybody else. Her solution, I guess, was for me to go out and slay on the soccer field. A statistical improbability.

But what is most memorable about this interaction in a car isn’t what she said, but how she said it. My mother always smoked a cigarette while she drove. So she was sitting in the driver’s seat with the window open a smidge to let out the smoke and ash, and she was yelling. She wasn’t yelling at me, as the person who was being bullied. But she was screaming out of frustration. Maybe she was frustrated that her son was being bullied or that her son might be gay — or both. Maybe she was frustrated because she couldn’t be with me at all hours of the day to defend me because she knew I wasn’t really vocal or quick enough to defend myself. But either way, her pep talk was at high volume. Something about the car hotboxes our feelings. The recycled warm air expands our emotions to fill the space. Like I said, to this day, I remember more how she said what she said, the decibel level, more than the words.

In Call Me By Your Name, Elio (also Chalamet) calls his mother to pick him up from a train station just as he’s waved goodbye to Oliver (Armie Hammer) for what might be the last time ever. While everyone remembers Michael Stuhlbarg’s emotional speech in the film’s final scenes, few talk about the quiet strength of Elio’s mom (Amira Casar). The way she lovingly strokes his hair while smoking a cigarette, like my mother, as her son tries to hold in sobs and weeps only three feet from her.

So, yes, I’d prefer Julia sparring with Albert Finney or Nicole traipsing around the Moulin Rouge, but there’s an emotional honesty to a mom behind the wheel, taking a journey with her son, that will always get me.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Topped the Box Office in At Least 12 Countries With Anti-LGBTQ Laws

Despite facing censorship over its bisexual lead, Bohemian Rhapsody has topped the box office in at least 12 countries with anti-LGBTQ laws.

Almost two weeks after its U.S. release, the biopic of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury has hit #1 in nine nations where same-sex marriage is banned under the constitution. According to numbers from Box Office Mojo, these countries include Bolivia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, Paraguay, Poland, and Slovakia.

The Bryan Singer-directed film also made its way to the top in Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine.

While Turkey hasn’t formally outlawed same-sex unions and a voter referendum on the subject failed in Romania earlier this year, both countries have laws on the books prohibiting LGBTQ people from donating blood. Ukraine has LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws at the federal level but prohibits same-sex couples from adopting children.

Meanwhile, Russia passed an anti-gay propaganda law in 2013 outlawing the spread of information on “nontraditional sexual relationships” to minors. Its unanimous passage led to a twofold increase in hate crimes against LGBTQ people.

Bohemian Rhapsody also went all the way to #2 in Serbia, where same-sex marriage is illegal, and #4 in Turkey, where anti-LGBTQ discrimination is legal.

While full box office data is not available for Indonesia, the film is likely to have debuted near the top of the box office there. Bohemian Rhapsody earned more than $1 million in its first week in Indonesian theaters.

Homosexuality is legal in Indonesia everywhere except the semi-independent province of Aceh, where those convicted of sodomy are subjected to public lashings under Sharia law. But amid a recent crackdown against the LGBTQ community, the once-permissive nation has weighed legislation criminalizing same-sex intercourse as part a proposal outlawing premarital relations.

To date, Bohemian Rhapsody has grossed more than $290 million worldwide. It’s already the third-highest grossing LGBTQ film ever in the U.S., where it has amassed over $104 million in its first 11 days of release.

But as the musical drama continues to roll out to more foreign territories with anti-LGBTQ laws on the books, it’s likely to face controversy.

In Malaysia, censors have snipped at least three minutes of footage depicting Mercury’s relationships with men and women. One of the scenes which was reportedly met with objections from the Malaysian Film Censorship Board (LPF) was a moment in which the singer (played by Rami Malek) confesses to then-fiancee Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) that he’s bisexual.

Footage excised included “men kissing each other, men rubbing each other, and a group of men in dresses partying in a mansion,” as board chairman Mohd Zamberi Abdul Aziz told Malay Mail.

Other reports, however, suggested that up to 24 minutes of material was cut from the film, resulting in “huge plot holes.”

As of 2010, its film censorship board bans any depiction of LGBTQ people in media, unless the characters “repent” or die. Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, which featured the studio’s first “exclusively gay moment,” faced similar criticism to Bohemian Rhapsody under those guidelines. Censors, however, eventually backed off threats to make major cuts to the film.

In Malaysia, individuals accused of same-sex intercourse face up to 20 years in prison under its colonial laws banning sodomy.

Conversely, criticism of Bohemian Rhapsody from audiences in the U.S. and U.K claimed the film didn’t go far enough in its depiction of Mercury’s sexuality, accusing the movie of straight-washing the queer icon. His sexual relationships with men, including partner Jim Hutton, largely take place offscreen.

Meanwhile, the singer’s HIV diagnosis is portrayed as leading to his “downfall,” despite the fact that he didn’t contract the virus until well after the film’s events take place.

But How Gay is ‘The Front Runner’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is The Front Runner? Jason Reitman’s eighth feature film as a director — and second this year — tells the story of Democratic presidential contender Gary Hart. Don’t know Hart? He was the front-runner (the titular role!) in the 1988 Democratic primary, only to be derailed by accusations of an affair with a woman named Donna Rice. His political aspirations were brought down, and we wound up with George H.W. Bush as president, which established the Bush dynasty and threw us into several unnecessary and costly wars.

So basically, The Front Runner should be about how we got to where we are now as a country. Unfortunately, Reitman’s film — co-written by him, Matt Bai, and Jay Carson, and adapted from Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid — is far more interested in railing against the press than it is in anything else. You’ve never seen a movie that hates the media more than this one! Feel free to use that line on the posters.

Who’s in it? Hugh Jackman plays Hart, in what we’d call a misguided performance. Hart has no real ebbs-and-flows in this movie; he’s angry in public that the press dares to ask questions about his personal life, while he’s sad in private that this is affecting his family. That’s basically it. There’s not much more to the performance or the role.

Faring far better is Vera Farmiga as Hart’s wife, Lee, whose brand of defiant vulnerability works perfectly in the role. In fact, the actresses in the film are leagues above the actors as a whole. Sara Paxton and Molly Ephraim share the movie’s most impressive scenes, as Donna Rice (Paxton) processes her emotions with the help of Hart aide Irene Kelly (Ephraim). Watching their story, I immediately wanted the whole film to focus on them. Whereas the Gary Hart-centric portions of The Front Runner feel very standard biopic, basically repeating the same beats over and over, the Rice/Kelly scenes present something new.

Combined with Farmiga’s scenes, they present this idea of women being made to bear the responsibility of men’s failures. A better movie would’ve seen the way those scenes sparkle, and refocused on them. Instead, we get mere glimmers before going back to moping around with Gary Hart.

Why should I see it? I didn’t say you should. It’s fine, but honestly, the amount of press-bashing in this movie is downright Trumpian. I was a little sick to my stomach watching it.

But how gay is it? It’s not. Like most Democratic candidates before roughly 2012, The Front Runner ignores gays. If I were feeling generous, I’d stretch and say that the Harts’ approach to marriage — at least, what we can tell of it from this odd movie — is queer-ish. But I’m not feeling like stretching today.

Hasn’t there been some revelation about the Gary Hart case recently? So, yes, but we’re not entirely sure about how. The Atlantic recently reported that, on his deathbed, conservative political operative Lee Atwater confessed to framing Hart. One of the reporters for The Miami-Herald working on the story back then, however, has pushed back against Atwater’s confession. So it’s not entirely clear. Rest assured, though, that this is a story we may never hear the full extent of in our lifetimes.

How does this compare to Tully, Jason Reitman’s other movie this year? Tully is a near-miracle of a movie, so tender and gracious without ever giving up its remarkable strength. The Front Runner is a media-loathing mess that runs away from interesting stories the second it happens upon them. Suffice it to say, we’d prefer Reitman exclusively work with Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron from now on.

The Front Runner is in theaters now.

What Does The Box Office Success of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Mean for Rami Malek?

Biopics and Oscar buzz: the two go together like, well, a star in search of the role of a lifetime. That’s pretty much what happened with Rami Malek and Bohemian Rhapsody. The actor replaced Sacha Baron Cohen as the Queen frontman fresh off of his 2016 Emmy win for Mr. Robot. From there, it was kinda clear that Malek had a taste for sparkly hardware and that he wanted to add an “O” to his potential future EGOT.

Whether or not he would achieve that “O” has been particularly called into question this week. Since the film’s inception, it’s wrestled with the pervasive perception that it mishandles Freddie Mercury’s bisexuality. Those fears were stoked further when INTO released a video showing Malek stumbling when asked whether or not Mercury was a queer icon — not whether or not Mercury personally identified as queer.  

Malek took another personal hit on social media last week when he turned down a fan’s request to star in a video on her camera phone, though he did OK a picture. The star didn’t realize that the fan’s video was already turned on until it was too late. Though Malek is perfectly within his rights to deny a fan video content, the video caused a viral sensation and was viewed more than 3 million times. Some people painted Malek as callous and ungrateful.

But all this negative press seemingly did nothing to stop the inevitable juggernaut that was Bohemian Rhapsody’s box office performance. Though experts predicted that the film would get about $35 million, and critics doled out poor to middling reviews, audiences flocked to the film to the tune of $50 million. They also liked it, giving it an “A” Cinemascore, indicating that the film will have box office legs.

Given the film’s box office success, Malek seems very much back toward the top of the heap for a Best Actor nomination and a true threat to take the statue. To be clear, given how sparse the Best Actor race is (some people disagree) a Malek nomination is a foregone conclusion. But whether or not that would translate to a win is Up in the Air (2009).

To be clear, box office success does not always translate to a win on Oscar night. But it does help. Gary Oldman and Leonardo DiCaprio won for smaller films, but had “overdue” narratives to galvanize voters to give them a win. But, in years where that “overdue” narrative isn’t there, box office certainly helps. Eddie Redmayne won for a biopic (like Bohemian Rhapsody) that earned over $100 million. Day-Lewis got a second Oscar for Lincoln, which was a box office behemoth. (He’s also Daniel Fucking Day-Lewis, so that helps).

But Malek might have a tough road ahead. He not only has to weather the film’s controversy, but also contend with A Star Is Born’s director-writer-actor Bradley Cooper. Given that Cooper is the driving force behind the box office smash, and how damn good he is in the film, it makes sense that they might reward him as an actor; he has three prior nominations and is a first-time director.

It’s clear from Oscar’s misbegotten “Best Popular Film” category that it wants to appeal to movies that everybody watches and not just dole out trophies to indie arthouse fare because it seems more prestigious. That said, while people turned out to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the reviews it garnered were not great. Both Cooper and Malek have box office, but Cooper has critical praise behind him.

Social media outrage didn’t deter people from seeing Bohemian Rhapsody, even if some people only hate-watched it. And it probably won’t stop Malek from being on the shortlist come nomination morning. But whether he nabs a trophy for a role that seems destined to earn someone the Oscar, that remains to be seen.

Header image via Getty

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Handles Its Gay Content With Kid Gloves

First, let’s get Bryan Singer out of the way.

We’re all aware that the production of Bohemian Rhapsody made a lot of headlines. Singer, who faced new allegations of sexual misconduct in the early weeks of the #MeToo movement, was fired and replaced before the film was wrapped. Per DGA requirements, he retains directorial credit, but it’s difficult to tell how much of the film is his. After all, Singer never had any distinctive style. His participation is one of many problems associated with this film, but like the other, better rock musical in theaters now – A Star Is Born – Bohemian Rhapsody went through years of development hell, script revisions, and casting foibles before eventually getting the green light. The resulting film is scarred by the debates that kept it out of production for so long. More on that later.

Bohemian Rhapsody is, of course, the story of Freddie Mercury and the band Queen. If there are any more beloved bands and more revered frontmen, you can count them on one hand. And because the music is wonderful and timeless, anyone who makes a film about it is already playing with a full deck, and naturally, the life of Freddie Mercury is biopic material. Mercury was a Parsi-English queer with a flamboyant stage persona and a four-octave vocal range. His musical innovations expanded upon Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, incorporated the classical and the operatic, and came to define the stadium anthem. And, of course, Mercury’s life was cut short by AIDS at the height of his global fame, and his legend has only grown since. This was a distinguished life marked by triumph and tragedy and vitalized by an extraordinary persona.

It is to the credit of Rami Malek that he does not evaporate under the demands of the role. In his first lead role in a studio film, Malek is largely convincing and charismatic. On stage doing some of his own vocals he captures Mercury’s electric constitution. He is all elbows and hips: pure sex. You want to reward him for the sheer physical energy needed to get the job done. You can see the sweat and the care.

Oh, and then there are the false teeth. You will hear a lot about this set of chompers, which were perhaps unavoidable. If there is a more distracting set of false teeth in cinema history, please point them out to me. Wearing them, Malek speaks slowly and methodically, sounding a bit like Freddie Mercury and a bit like someone with five dollars of dimes in his mouth. They never look natural, and we never adjust completely to them, but they’re certainly a daring choice.

The teeth are not the movie’s biggest problem, but there is a great deal to admire here. When Bohemian Rhapsody is telling the story of a band, its music, and the industry that made them famous, it knows exactly what it’s doing. The film begins when Freddie is a confident young working man a baggage handler at Heathrow who knows what he wants and pursues it. He meets guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) and inserts himself at the front of their band Smile, which he quickly renames before adding bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello). (None of the three bandmates is especially good, but their resemblances to their real-life counterparts are uncanny.) Starting small, Mercury insists the band sell its van to fund their debut album. Through chance and willpower, they sign a record deal and are on their way, and you believe it, because Bohemian Rhapsody wisely spends so much time mucking about with the band in the studio, depicting the freewheeling process that resulted in such unusual, expressive music. Soon after, when Queen visits their label head (an unrecognizable Mike Myers) and pitches the landmark album A Night At The Opera, Mercury puts on Maria Callas and makes the case for a new kind of rock music. He sounds equal parts idiotic and pretentious, and it all looks more absurd once they get into the studio.

But then we get a hilarious montage of endless “Galileo!” overdubs and a fabulous sequence replicating Queen’s famous “Dietrich lighting” promo video. The album’s bewildered reviews drift by. It’s a pleasure mostly because we’re asked to imagine hearing the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the first time, and it’s a welcome reminder of just how adventurous, demanding, and rigorous those songs are, their eventual ubiquity notwithstanding. And although there is little differentiating Mercury’s bandmates, Bohemian Rhapsody is quite good at depicting collaborative genius in the making.

And yet I have the unfortunate duty of reporting that the film comes up short in the most obnoxious way possible. To at least some extent among Queen’s straight fans, Mercury’s queerness has always been something of an inconvenience, and Bohemian Rhapsody is written to privilege that straight audience. Now, it is well-documented that Mercury was queer, and also, that his most important relationship was with a woman, Mary Austin. Their romance lasted six years, though Mary remained his most intimate friend until his death. Though it’s accurate for Mary Austin to figure prominently in Mercury’s personal history, Freddie’s sexuality is handled with kid gloves, and the film’s angle on their relationship makes panicked sacrifices for the comforts of heteronormativity.

The film lavishes Mercury’s heterosexual romance with screen time. As written by Anthony McCarten and played by Lucy Boynton, Mary is a one-dimensional wholesome foil for Mercury’s gay partners, who are represented by a few unpleasant scenes of druggy debauchery in Germany, an unscrupulous, backstabbing manager, and one sweet same-sex kiss with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker), the other love of Mercury’s life. And there is not one whiff of gay sex in Bohemian Rhapsody, but as a matter of course, Malek and Boynton have many, many long, intimate scenes undressed in bed. When Freddie comes out to Mary, the result is an embarrassment of gay movie tropes.

Hampered by a (presumably studio-mandated and contractually obligated) PG-13 rating, Bohemian Rhapsody represses and marginalizes its own queer content, stigmatizing it by default. The hetero bent of Rhapsody might be forgivable if it eventually developed into a novel, convincing, or nuanced queer journey. Instead, it’s too evasive and tenuous to be anything but strategic. 20th Century Fox will keep straights in their seats: they’ve made Mercury straight enough for them to swallow and just gay enough for them to feel open-minded. But simply put, you cannot make a good film about a gay man if you are fanatically fretful about alienating a heterosexual audience. Bohemian Rhapsody effectively otherizes its own protagonist.

Furthermore, Bohemian Rhapsody makes the odd choice to wrap up in 1985. (Mercury died of AIDS-related complications in November 1991.) The finale is a spectacular concert sequence, replicating in real time Queen’s era-defining Live Aid performance. Malek is sensational here, and the well-executed scene will seal the deal with Queen fans, but it also conveniently avoids portraying Mercury’s declining years, not to mention his relationship with Hutton. As a result, the film pays the equivalent of lip service to Mercury’s diagnosis, twisting the historical timeline considerably in the process. We get the following short, obligatory scenes: Mercury watches a TV report about AIDS, Mercury suspects he is ill, Mercury is tested. And then, in the film’s most cringe-worthy scene, he returns from a dramatic Queen hiatus to tell his bandmates the bad news, and Mercury’s AIDS is used as a disingenuous shortcut to circumvent legitimate conflict resolution. It is so oblique and equivocal that audiences may leave knowing less about AIDS than they did going in.

Throughout the back half of Bohemian Rhapsody, I couldn’t help but think about the long early scene with Mike Myers in the offices at EMI. Short-sighted and fearful, the label whines about the commercial prospects of A Night at the Opera. (“But nobody likes opera.” “I like opera!”) I can imagine similar boardroom back-and-forths at Fox about awarding a big budget to an unambiguously queer biopic. All these years have passed, and we still remember and mourn Freddie Mercury for the kind of grand-scale artistic daring and conviction nobody involved with Bohemian Rhapsody has courage enough to replicate.

Except, perhaps, whoever designed those teeth. If only the rest of the film had half as much bite.

But How Gay is ‘Boy Erased’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Boy Erased? Adapted from Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name, Joel Edgerton’s film is the second major conversion therapy movie of the year. This one follows Jared (a fictionalized Conley), a college student, made to go through conversion therapy by his Southern Baptist parents, Nancy and Marshall. Though he at first puts on a brave face for the therapy, watching the horrors enacted by the program’s administrators, including head “therapist” Victor’s abuse of one program participant, radicalizes him. He escapes, and winds up writing several articles — even talking about a book — about his experience.

But Boy Erased is only somewhat interested in the details of Jared’s therapy. Edgerton invests most in Jared’s relationship with Nancy and Marshall, and what both motivates their actions and eventually grows to horrify them about what they put their son through.

Who’s in it? Lucas Hedges, so compelling in both last year’s Lady Bird and in his Oscar-nominated turn in Manchester by the Sea, plays Jared. Hedges imbues his gay characters in particular with such softness that I rarely see in American films. Compare Jared and Danny from Lady Bird to some of his contemporaries playing gay, and you’ll see the difference; Hedges leads with heart, eschewing any performance of toughness. (Read his description of his own sexuality — what one might lazily call “heteroflexible” but he describes in far more earnest and searching ways — and his heart-first performances make more sense.)

I’m a massive fan of Hedges, and am admittedly a tad disappointed that he seems to be getting overshadowed by his Lady Bird co-star Timothée Chalamet. Ideally, both would thrive; in reality, both will likely be up for several of the same roles. Boy Erased is just another example of why Hedges should be allowed in that spotlight.

Nicole Kidman plays Nancy, while Russell Crowe plays Marshall and Edgerton himself plays Victor. Those ensemble members (plus Troye Sivan as one of Jared’s fellow therapy-goers) give this American story a remarkably Australian sheen.

Why should I see it? For the performances most of all. Kidman and Hedges are both great; Crowe is excellent, turning in one of the best performances of his career. Their sections of the film are compelling, to the point where I actively wanted the oft-overly broad therapy scenes to end just to get back to learning about them. Had Boy Erased been all about the periods before and after Jared’s conversion therapy, I think it would have been a superior film. Admittedly, a conversion therapy movie not about conversion therapy feels counterintuitive, but the fairly formulaic Boy Erased could’ve used some more out-of-the-box thinking.

But how gay is it? So, as I’ve been hinting, Boy Erased is not very gay. It’s laser-focused on Jared’s parents, and only really engages with Jared’s sexuality through the lens of conversion therapy. It’s also deeply un-queer in approach, just as standard a memoir adaptation as you can imagine. I liked Boy Erased more than I expected I would, but I can’t defend it on this point.

How does this compare to The Miseducation of Cameron Post? Here’s how I’d put it: Cameron Post is the superior movie about conversion therapy. Boy Erased is the superior movie about the kinds of people who would send their child to conversion therapy.

Do we need movies like this? Honestly? I’m split. I can see the value of something like Boy Erased, as it makes a strong argument that parents need to hear. On the other hand, I’m very uninterested in having more straight people direct stories about queer people. Because ultimately, as we do here, we get films that are more interested in the straight people surrounding a gay person than in the actual gay person.

I guess my take is this: Boy Erased is very effective at what it does. I’m glad it exists. I just don’t want more Boy Eraseds — movies for straight people about queer people — than I do movies for queer people, by queer people.

Boy Erased is in theaters now.

We Always Talk About Freddie Mercury’s Sexuality, But What About His Confusing Racial Identity?

With Bohemian Rhapsody, the film about Queen’s eccentric frontman Freddie Mercury, just around the corner, discourse about Mercury’s sexuality has rocked the internet. Some folks say that Mercury was gay, some say he was bisexual, some say he was queer and some say that he didn’t like being defined by labels so we shouldn’t be trying to label him now. (Even the film’s star, Rami Malek, got a little flummoxed when discussing Mercury’s status as a queer icon in an interview with INTO.) In a lot of ways, it makes sense that LGBTQ folks try to claim Mercury and place him into different categories. It makes conversations easier if we can point to a famous person in history and say “This person is one of us!”

Interestingly, this isn’t the only debate surrounding Mercury’s identity — in addition to LGBTQ groups wanting to claim him, so do different racial groups. In fact, I don’t think many folks even know what to guess in terms of Freddie Mercury’s race (most probably assume he’s just white).

When I was a little gay Persian kid running around California, one of the things my dad would sometimes mention is how “the guy from Queen is Persian.” I feel like this is common among immigrant dads: they can point to every celebrity with a shared ethnicity. So after my dad ingrained this in my head, I took it as fact — Freddie Mercury was Persian.

It wasn’t until I got to college that this was challenged. I was getting boba with a close friend who is Indian and somehow we got on the subject of Freddie Mercury. When I said “You know he’s Persian, right?” she responded with “What? No, he’s Indian.” My world was turned upside down. When I looked into it, the answer was pretty clear: he’s both.

Freddie Mercury, whose birth name was Farrokh Bulsara, was born in the then British-controlled Stone Town in Zanzibar. His family was ethnically Parsi, which is an ethnic group that might need a little explaining. Although in our mainstream American race discourse — because of indigenous genocide and erasure — we don’t often talk about ethnicity, it’s an ever prominent aspect of life in other countries. For example, in South Asia, there are dozens of different ethnicities: Gujarati, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil, etc. who each have their own language and culture.

Parsi is another ethnic group in South Asia, but they have a specific migration history. The Parsi people are part of the Zoroastrian religion from Persia (modern day Iran) but started to migrate to India because of persecution they faced during the Muslim conquest of Iran. According to a 2011 study, there are about 60,000 Parsi people still in India today.

It’s not surprising to me that queer western folks wouldn’t know or pay attention to this part of Freddie Mercury’s life, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. The first songs he learned to play on the piano as a child were Indian songs. In an interview with The Telegraph, Mercury’s mom said that “Freddie was a [Parsi] and he was proud of that, but he wasn’t particularly religious.”

Though Mercury didn’t make South Asian or Middle Eastern music, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t influenced by his culture. Not everything I do will be explicitly gay or Persian, but it doesn’t mean those things aren’t influencing my work. In the same way that we now examine Mercury’s life and career through a queer lens, we should examine his life and career in relation to his culture; both Persian and Indian.

For me, it feels really frustrating to imagine a future where my writing, because I write mostly for an LGBTQ publication, would be viewed only as queer. When someone lives in intersectional systems of marginalization, it’s important to understand that they can’t be separated — my queerness is Persian and my race is gay — and I think it’s unfair to think otherwise. Folks are understandably protective of Mercury’s fluidity in terms of gender expression and sexuality (which is one of the main critiques of the new film). Just as important, though, is that we protect Mercury’s ethnicity.

Images via Getty

But How Gay is ‘Suspiria’?

In “But How Gay Is It?”, we seek to answer the biggest questions you have about a new movie release in theaters now — including, most crucially, the titular question. Does the movie have any queer characters? Are there stories involving same-sex lovers? Which gay icons star in the film? We’re bringing you all that and more.

What is Suspiria? It’s a remake, but not a remake, but actually yes a remake, of the 1977 Dario Argento Italian horror film of the same name. Director Luca Guadagnino, who you best remember from directing last year’s gay fantasia on Italian themes Call Me By Your Name, decided to reimagine the story, adding an extra hour and a whole lot of information about the mid-’70s German political climate.

The plot is actually fairly simple: Susie Bannion, an American dance student, shows up at the Markos Dance Academy in Berlin to audition. Turns out Susie is very good, and a good fit with the thrust-heavy style that dance teacher Madame Blanc prefers. She joins the company, and because of a vacancy, quickly elevates herself to the lead role in an upcoming production. What comes next involves witches, magic, and a whole fuckton of blood. Plus some dancing! Suspiria is not for the faint of heart, to say the least.

Who’s in it? Dakota Johnson, who is a remarkable blank slate for auteur directors to work with, plays Susie. I’m not sure I’m sold on her as an actress yet, but I think she’s remarkable at adapting to what a director needs of her. With time, she could become more like Tilda Swinton, who plays Madame Blanc. Whereas Johnson is all vessel, Swinton uses what a director gives her and transforms it into something special. Swinton is excellent in the movie, as both Blanc and, in a buzzy twist, investigating psychiatrist Dr. Jozef Klemperer.

Why should I see it? It’s so bonkers, it must be seen to be believed. Guadagnino delivers such spectacle, describing it feels insufficient. Rarely do you see a movie that boggles the mind purely visually like this one does — although I’d argue Annihilation earlier this year did the same, and delivered a better actual film. Regardless, if you’ve got the stomach for it, Suspiria is worth the time.

But how gay is it? Swinton’s presence generally is pretty gay, and the pure amount of sexuality, nudity, and witchery on display adds a thick layer of queerness. No explicitly gay characters, though.

So Tilda Swinton is playing two characters in this? Twist: She actually plays three. The third is a spoiler, although it’s listed on the film’s Wikipedia page, so read about the movie at your own risk. But she earned her damn paycheck, that’s for sure.

Will I be scared by Suspiria? It feels like a modern cliché to say this, but Suspiria is more tense/disturbing than scary. That works to its advantage, I think; it’ll stick with you far longer than any individual scare could.

Suspiria is in theaters now.

‘Beautiful Boy’ Erased – The True Story Behind Timothée Chalamet’s Latest Film Is Surprisingly Queer

Following his already iconic turn in Call Me By Your Name, Timothée Chalamet can now star in any movie and gay men will camp outside of their local cinema regardless, peach in hand. His latest film, Beautiful Boy, explores the dangers of addiction from the perspectives of both father and son, yet the title Boy Erased might be more accurate given how this adaptation deliberately avoids the queer moments that can be found in the books upon which it’s based.

Combining Nic Sheff’s memoir, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, with his father’s book, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, the film chronicles the devastating effect that crystal meth had on Nic’s life. Throughout, David Sheff tries to provide his son with the help and support that he needs, but rehab doesn’t work for long and Nic relapses more than once.

Steve Carell impresses as David in one of his most award-friendly “serious” roles yet, but it’s the beautiful boy himself who unsurprisingly steals the show here, delving into the darkness of addiction without ever exaggerating the part or resorting to stereotypes. As Elio, Chalamet grew more comfortable in his own skin by learning to accept his feelings for Oliver, but here, Nic strives to reject his body, using drugs to numb his physical and mental existence.

Vice claims that “Beautiful Boy doesn’t hide the ugliest parts of addiction” and sure, Nic is sometimes portrayed in a poor light, particularly when he steals money from his younger brother or encourages his girlfriend to experiment with narcotics. However, the darkest moments that Nic endured are noticeably absent, even though they’re written in black and white in the pages of his memoir.

In real life, Nic almost lost his arm after an infected needle puncture grew to a grotesque size and suicidal thoughts were a huge part of his story, too. To satiate his cravings, Nic would also sell his body to other men for sex, even though he identifies as straight. It wasn’t just about the money, though.

Writing for The Fix, Nic has since revealed that what he wanted most of all was just “to feel beautiful.” Even though he could have found other ways to fund his drug problem, he “wanted to feel wanted.” According to Nic, men seemed to like him more than women, so that’s why he ended up sleeping with men for money.

After the first book was completed and ready for publication, the family members who read it all felt that Nic should leave the hustling out completely. Why was it more acceptable for Nic to write about stealing from his family or injecting lethal drugs into his body? Whether this was some kind of homophobia or simply reflects society’s often prejudiced attitude towards sex work, it’s a sentiment that the filmmakers clearly shared while adapting his work.

By their very nature, movie adaptations of real-life events can never tell the whole story and sometimes, taking such a comprehensive approach can dilute the impact of the film. However, is there much point exploring addiction if you’re not going to reveal the darkest places that it can take people? In particular, the decision to avoid the queer aspects of Nic’s story entirely is also worrying given the general erasure that LGBTQ people still suffer in the mainstream.

Beautiful Boy has already become the best opener yet for Amazon Studios, and the pink dollar must be responsible for this at least in part, yet Felix Van Groeningen’s movie still actively avoids queer sentiment.

This isn’t the only problem that Beautiful Boy faces,though. By focusing almost solely on the relationship shared between Nic and his father, the female characters are often short-changed and this narrow representation of addiction fails to account for those who don’t receive the same chances that Nic did.

Last year, a record 72,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, making Nic’s story an especially pressing one. It’s just a shame that this mostly authentic account of addiction would rather dilute its message to make a bid for mainstream and perhaps even award success, rather than tell the whole, not so beautiful story.

Beautiful Boy is out in cinemas right now in limited release.