Fresh off its four Oscar wins, Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” will hit theaters in China, the company announced on social media Wednesday – a surprising development, considering the country’s restrictions on LGBT content.
The Freddie Mercury biopic was approved for a limited release by China’s National Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas. The release date is listed as March 22 on film review site Douban.
Fans rejoiced online at the unexpected chance to catch the film in theaters. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” joked an astonished Weibo user.
It still remains unclear whether the film will run uncensored. The most popular user comments under Fox’s announcement of the news on Weibo expressed concern that homosexual content would be cut. “Could you please not cut anything?” one begged with rows of pleading-eyed emojis. “Suspense! It’s already very unexpected for it to hit theaters – the chance of cuts is very high,” another wrote.
The news comes just as one of the only two sites that live-streamed the Oscars in China is under fire for censoring star Rami Malek’s best-actor acceptance speech. “Listen, we made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life unapologetically himself, and the fact that I’m celebrating him and his story here tonight is proof that we’re longing for stories like this,” Malek said.
Mango TV, one of China’s most popular channels, substituted the words “special group” for “gay man” in its translated subtitles. The company is owned by state-owned Chinese broadcaster Hunan TV.
A screenshot of the subtitled moment made the rounds online, re-posted angrily by detractors. “What are they afraid of?” asked one, while another person wrote: “Can we get the Oscars to cancel China’s broadcasting rights? Let’s write a complaint letter or something.”
Mango TV faced intense criticism last year for censoring gay content out of its broadcast of the Eurovision singing competition by refusing to air an Irish music video in which male dancers held hands and blurring out rainbow flags. The European Broadcasting Union ultimately barred it from airing the show.
China has no clear, comprehensive policy on gay content, but it is deemed sensitive and is inconsistently but regularly removed from different media. Gay themes are specifically banned from appearing on TV and, since 2017, in online streaming content.
Last year’s Beijing International Film Festival scheduled a screening of the Oscar-winning gay love story and coming-of-age tale “Call Me by Your Name,” only later to cancel it. And in 2016, LeTV’s viral online drama “Go Princess Go,” which depicted bisexuality and issues of gender identity, was abruptly pulled from the web.
China last year drastically increased its policing of the web, deleting “vulgar” material from social media and shuttering “illegal” websites. The crackdown has made streaming platforms extremely cautious. Last month, streaming platform iQiyi took heat for censoring images of men with earrings by blurring out their earlobes, a move the public found ridiculous.
In recent years there have been examples of growing public and official tolerance of LGBT issues.
Chinese authorities allowed Disney’s 2017 live-action “Beauty and the Beast” to run without cuts, despite a controversial “gay moment” between LeFou and Gaston that almost got the film banned in Russia and Malaysia. The decision was proudly tweeted about by the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.
In 2018, cinemas nationwide screened director Wang Chao’s “Looking for Rohmer,” which had been championed as the first gay-themed film to be approved by censors, though many expectant viewers felt let down by the film, which depicted its gay subject matter so subtly one could have missed it.
When Weibo last year announced a ban on LGBT content on its platform as part of a sweep against violent and pornographic content, it was forced to reverse its stance after intense popular backlash.