The 2019 film Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of icon Freddie Mercury and the band Queen, took an entire decade to make. It's been a big winner in the awards circuit this year, with Rami Malek praised for his ah-MAZE-ing portrayal of Mercury. Plus, Bohemian Rhapsody has gotten five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. But the film also hasn't been without controversy, with some critics and fans saying it isn't a realistic or deep enough portrayal of the singer. So what did those people closest to the late Freddie Mercury—a.k.a. his friends, bandmates, and family—have to say about the controversy?
Since the band actually helped contribute to the film, it seems that they've always been pro-Bohemian Rhapsody. Brian May, the Queen guitarist who was involved in the production, raved about the cast and crew, particularly Rami. "He inhabited Freddie to the point where we even started to think of him as Freddie," May told the Press Association.
Rami says he also met Freddie Mercury's sister, telling Jimmy Kimmel:
"She got to see me as a young Freddie with long hair and the teeth, make-up, the whole 1970s, early glam-rock look. As you can imagine it was an incredibly bizarre, alien moment for her...Later on, it was a very emotional moment. On a serious note, she wrote me the most moving email. It was very powerful. To get that vote of appreciation from the people who were closest to him was everything for me."
And during the 2019 Golden Globes, several members of Queen showed up to honor the film and celebrate its wins for Best Motion Picture (Drama) and Best Actor (Drama).
Plus, there's a report that Rami may join Queen and Adam Lambert as they perform at the Oscars, so that would be the ultimate sign of approval from the band.
So why the criticism, if Rami put in a good performance? Well, it comes down to the film itself, which has been criticized for glossing over Mercury's sexuality, reducing him to a stereotype, ad-libbing parts of his biography, and all but ignoring the nuanced questions that fans have about the late singer. Bohemian Rhapsody may have tried to bite off too much: An in-depth article by the L.A. Times explains that May, plus other friends and family of Mercury, talked in detail about the late star's life for multiple biographies (including Mark Langthorne and Matt Richards' biography Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury). These books cover a lot of ground—his relationships with the band; his ethnicity, sexuality, and faith, and why he changed his name. The movie tries to touch on all of these topics and ends up "multitasking," according to critic Justin Chang.
When he watched it, May, for one, said that he had mixed feelings. In an interview with Classic Rock, he explained how he'd felt as a viewer:
Joy and horror and sadness and all those big emotions. I’ve seen it hundreds of times now, in fragments and eventually coming together, and it still gets me, I must say. Obviously Freddie is so precious to us. One of the great breakthroughs early on was [screenwriter] Peter Morgan saying: ‘This is a film about family.’ ...I think [Freddie] would have felt it was a fair cop, really. It shows all his greatness and all his fallibility and insecurity – the whole bit.
But although the film has been described as problematic by critics, it's still an audience favorite. Writes Stephanie Zacharek for TIME: "And as a person—and a critic—who happens to love Bohemian Rhapsody, even I am tired of the wan, pitying smiles I get from my colleagues when they remember my championing of the film." It seems, too, that the film is looked upon fondly by some of those who knew Mercury.
For more stories like this, including celebrity news, beauty and fashion advice, savvy political commentary, and fascinating features, sign up for the Marie Claire newsletter.