When I was in Edinburgh one of my flatmates was really upset that the pre-production of the Freddie Mercury biopic starring Ben Whishaw had been halted. And I kind of bit my tongue at the time but I’m honestly so relieved.
I don’t need the most prominent (pretty much the only) Western rock star of the 20th century of Asian descent to be played by a white man.
Ben Whishaw can play literally any other rock frontman with no more effort towards verisimilitude than gaining some weight and getting a haircut. But the singular life and genius of Freddie Mercury, born in Tanzania to Indian parents, deserves to be treated with respect if it’s depicted on film (which, honestly, I really don’t think it needs to be).
Who says Mercury’s life and genius would NOT be treated with respect if he is played by Whishaw? It’s the treatment of his heritage, not his genius, that bothers you, clearly. Well, apparently not everyone thinks of Mercury purely in terms of his race - including the man himself, who never emphasized it.
Okay I don’t know what your background is, but just in case you aren’t Asian having grown up in a predominantly white Western nation, let me give you and anyone else reading this some insight.
When I was a kid there were precisely two figures in all of media whom I could recognise as being ‘like me’. They were Aladdin and Freddie Mercury. This is how scant the crop was. When my parents wanted to point out Asian people I could admire, I had the choice of an animated homeless boy from a pastiche Arabian fantasy world, and a fair-skinned Parsi musician. And I clung on to both of those heroes, desperately.
So, yes, the treatment of Mercury’s heritage does bother me. The fact that half of my racially relatable childhood idols could be erased and instead played by a white actor just because he’s popular bothers me.
Did Mercury ‘never emphasise’ his race? To some extent that’s true. But he never emphasised his sexuality much either, but that was just as much part of his identity. He was an intensely private man (which is part of the reason I don’t think a biopic is a good idea).
He was a fair-skinned Persian and so could ‘pass’ as white or European. Roger Taylor, the drummer of Queen, said that Mercury thought that being identified as Asian could have been a hindrance, that it didn’t gel with a rock star image in the 70s. Frankly, I don’t want to see that viewpoint given credence by casting a white man.
The entire reason that Mercury’s family immigrated to the UK in the first place was due to the Zanzibar revolution, when thousands of Indians like them were being killed. That seems like a pretty major instance of race playing a role in his life to me.
But frankly, whether he concealed his race or spoke openly about it or made no big deal about, I don’t really give a shit. The fact is that he was not white. Ben Whishaw and Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston and all the other bony white actors with pretty eyes that you so worship are never going to run out of roles as white men.
Let someone more appropriate have a chance to represent this rare role as an Asian British musician. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of choice.
I mean, I’m not saying that we can enforce this as law or anything. I also might be wrong about this. But:
Just as a general rule, I feel like we should not look at pictures of the breasts or genitalia of people who would rather we not look…
Johnny Carson gets too much of the old-school late night praise. All of the cool kids know The Dick Cavett Show is really where it’s at.
Vivre Sa Vie (1962) dir. Jean-Luc Godard
so stoked about these 1963 & 1965 Disneyland ticket books I got today!
When I was in Edinburgh one of my flatmates was really upset that the pre-production of the Freddie Mercury...
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Just being a jerk :-)
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