Bohemian Rhapsody, and Why the Context Around Art Matters
It looks like Rami Malek is going to win an Oscar. He won the Screen Actors Guild prize, and he picked up a Golden Globe before that. He plays Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, a very popular film that was also maligned by critics. The credited director on that film is Bryan Singer.
You wouldn’t know that if you listened to Rami’s speeches. He seems to forget that the movie had a director every time he takes the microphone. In fact, he’s barely been asked to address Bryan Singer at all, despite the fact that the director has been accused of rape by several men who were underage at the time. When he has addressed it, he’s claimed ignorance. Strangely, that seems good enough for everyone involved.
Nevermind the fact that there were allegations against Bryan in 2014, years before Rami was attached to the film. Just forget about that.
It Can’t Be Fixed Until It’s Addressed
Reports suggest that the two feuded on set. The director was fired before production wrapped, but because of rules set down by the Director’s Guild of America, his name is attached to the finished product. Rami might have a legitimate explanation for all of this. He might feel regret about working with Bryan Singer at all. We don’t know. He won’t say.
Some might argue that none of this matters. After all, Bryan Singer’s crimes don’t seem to have impacted the final product. Bohemian Rhapsody is a rote biopic with a performance from Rami Malek that many believe is awards-worthy. The work is the work. Whatever Bryan Singer did in his private life, while criminal and hugely traumatic for those involved, shouldn’t impact how we see his films.
There’s one problem with that, though. For the past two years, we’ve had the opportunity to look back on art from problematic artists. There’s Bill Cosby‘s standup and television show, Woody Allen‘s films, and everything that Louis C.K. has touched. It’s hard to look at these things the same way we once did. They may still be revolutionary, but they’re also tainted somehow.
With Bohemian Rhapsody, we have the chance to evaluate art in that context in real time. This movie premiered, and has swept through awards season as accusations against Bryan Singer have mounted. We can decide whether this movie is worth keeping right now. Maybe we already have.
Right now, it seems like Rami Malek and everyone else involved is going from event to event praying no one will bring it up. Someone should. The alternative is pretending that it never happened, and in doing so, giving Bryan Singer more chances.
Bryan Singer Should be Over
When the people around his movies pretend he doesn’t exist, Bryan Singer gets more chances to work. As awkward as addressing it head on may be, the alternative reinforces a system of ignorance that allows the Bryan Singers of the world to keep working. In Hollywood, you can’t direct a film on your own. Someone has to agree to work with you, and in doing so, ignore whatever crimes you bring with you.
Bryan Singer is an accused rapist. He should never be afforded the chance to play with $60 million of some studio’s money again. Even those who work with him should be able to say that out loud, especially when they are given awards for movies he was involved in.
The fact that Bryan Singer is attached to another project speaks perfectly to the way Hollywood seems to work. In favoring a mediocre, white, male director who is also an accused criminal over hundreds of others with more unique perspectives, Hollywood proves the point it’s been trying to refute for two years now. It proves that it is a system where power matters more than talent, and where those who wield it do whatever they can to protect one another. What’s more, this consolidation of power comes at the expense of art made by interesting new voices that have something to say.
When We Ignore Context, Art Loses its Value
Art does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. To pretend that the accusations against Bryan Singer have no impact on the art he makes is to say that your opinion of art is never colored by the world it exists in. All art is political, and not just because it’s impossible to make a movie or paint a painting without saying something. The politics of art is extended to how it’s made, who gets to make it, and who sees it.
Bohemian Rhapsody may seem inoffensive or even progressive on paper. After all, it’s about one of the most famous gay men to ever live. The movie itself doesn’t seem particularly interested in addressing Mercury’s sexuality more than it has to, and it plays with chronology way too much. If that was the sum of the movie’s issues, there’d be no need for this article.
Instead, those issues are compounded by who got a say in what this movie was. And so we are left in a situation where seeing the movie condones bad behavior. Not the bad behavior of Bryan himself, but the bad behavior of a system that allows him to continue working in spite of it. His movies make money. He can keep making movies as long as that’s the case.
Ignoring The Accusations Allows Us to Forget Them
When awards shows honor the performances in those movies, and we allow the recipients to avoid discussing it, we’re letting Bryan Singer get away with something. To move past the subject is to let it be forgotten. To say that a performance can be great in a movie directed by an accused criminal is to ignore the kind of compromises that performer went through when he signed onto the project. If you’re okay with giving Rami Malek awards in spite of the accusations against Bryan Singer, you can say that. What you can’t do is ignore the issue entirely.