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China's censors drop gay scenes from 'Bohemian Rhapsody' film

Homosexuality is not illegal in China, with a thriving gay scene in some cities, but activists say the conservative attitudes of some have prompted occasional government clamp-downs.

(L-R) British musician, and drummer of the rock band Queen, Roger Taylor, US actor Rami Malek, British musician, and lead guitarist of the rock band Queen, Brian May, US actor Joe Mazzello and British actor Gwilym Lee pose on the red carpet arriving for the world premiere of the film 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at Wembley Arena in north London on 23 October 2018. Picture: AFP

BEIJING - China has scrubbed at least 10 scenes with gay references from the Oscar-winning biopic Bohemian Rhapsody about British rock musician Freddie Mercury, incensing some domestic viewers who said authorities were overreacting.

The film about the lead singer of British rock band Queen, idolised by gay Western fans, has earned more than $8 million in box office revenue since opening in Chinese arthouse cinemas on Friday, according to Alibaba Pictures.

But at least three minutes of scenes, from a close-up of Mercury’s gyrating crotch as he performs, to a kiss with a male guest and the spanking of a female guest at a party, are missing.

“In effect, it feels like the whole movie has been cut, though in reality it’s only a three-minute cut,” said one commentator on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.

“The film itself is not trying to highlight anything, but when we deliberately make deletions, it makes these things sensitive,” said another.

The China Film Administration did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

The film traces the singer’s life since Queen was formed in 1970 to one of its highlight performances in London in 1985.

Homosexuality is not illegal in China, with a thriving gay scene in some cities, but activists say the conservative attitudes of some have prompted occasional government clamp-downs.

Since 2012, China has stepped up a crackdown on content it deems to violate so-called “socialist core value” under President Xi Jinping, whether in video games, music or television.

But Chinese censors can be unpredictable in their attitudes to violence, pornography, and politically sensitive topics.

For example, gay references were left intact in another movie, Green Book, which snatched the Best Picture Award from Bohemian Rhapsody at this year’s Academy Awards, when it released in China this month.

But Shi Yedong, a Beijing-based film analyst, said it was unusual that Bohemian Rhapsody had even passed China’s censors in the current circumstances.

“The censorship is getting more and more intense on film and television,” he said.

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