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Chinese viewers balk at 'Bohemian Rhapsody' film censorship

A customer looks at a movie poster for the film "Bohemian Rhapsody" at a movie theater in Beijing, on March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING (AP) -- A huge fan of rock legends Queen, Peng Yanzi rushed to see "Bohemian Rhapsody," the biopic about the band's late lead singer, Freddie Mercury, while he was traveling in Britain last October.

It was a touching film that made him cry hard, Peng says. He loved it enough to watch it a second time in his home city of Guangzhou after the film garnered a surprise China release.

But the version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" he saw this past weekend was notably different from the original. Moviegoers in China say key scenes about Mercury's sexuality have been either abruptly muted or cut altogether.

"The cut scenes really affect the movie," said Peng, a Chinese LGBT rights activist. "The film talks about how (Mercury) became himself, and his sexuality is an important part of becoming who he was."

Scenes that were deleted include one in which Mercury reveals to his then-wife that he is not heterosexual. In the part of the film where Mercury tells the band that he has AIDS, the dialogue goes silent.

While LGBT content is generally less taboo than other topics that Chinese authorities deem sensitive, same-sex relationships are still virtually absent from mainstream media.

In 2017, a government-affiliated internet TV association warned streaming content providers against depicting homosexuality, labeling it an "abnormal" sexual behavior. A similar move last year from Weibo, one of China's top social media platforms, provoked an outcry that prompted the website to backtrack and state that a "cleanup of games and cartoons will no longer target gay content."

When Chinese video site Mango TV livestreamed the Academy Awards in February, "Bohemian Rhapsody" lead actor Rami Malek's speech was subtitled to read "special group" when in fact he said "gay man."

Mango TV also censored two LGBT-themed performances during last year's Eurovision song contest, causing Eurovision to terminate its partnership with the Chinese broadcaster in the middle of the competition season.

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