Egyptian authorities were eager to claim a connection to Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek after his best actor win at the Academy Awards last week. Egypt’s Immigration Ministry even tweeted a quote from Malek’s Oscar acceptance speech.
But Malek’s full speech has not and could not be reported in Egyptian media.
“We made a film about a gay man, an immigrant, who lived his life just unapologetically himself,” said Malek of music legend Freddie Mercury of Queen, whom he portrayed in the film Bohemian Rhapsody.
One can laud an actor without embracing the character they embody – who didn’t love Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter? But Bohemian Rhapsody is not just a film that happens to be about a gay, or more likely, bisexual celebrity – Malek’s performance celebrates Mercury as unabashedly, flamboyantly queer.
If the Egyptian government and its apologists want to own a piece of Malek’s Bohemian Rhapsody triumph, they should own up to the facts. First, the film was shown in theatres in Egypt only after several scenes were cut, two sources in Cairo told Human Rights Watch. Were Mercury in Egypt today, he could be charged under Egypt’s debauchery law, like 76 people were last year according to Cairo-based rights organization Bedayaa. He could undergo a forced anal examination, which involves a doctor inserting a finger into an accused person’s anus to determine whether they are “habituated” to anal sex.
Freddie Mercury would not be allowed an interview on Egyptian media. The Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued a 2017 prohibition on “homosexuals” appearing on any media outlet except when they “repent” for their sexual conduct. Media outlets are forbidden to “celebrate” homosexuality. Just for interviewing Freddie Mercury – or, for that matter, Rami Malek speaking positively about Freddie Mercury – a host could be sentenced to prison, as happened to Mohamed Al-Ghaity last month for interviewing a gay man.
Rami Malek took home his Oscar because he gave life, joyfully, to a queer icon. But Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi would not allow either a Mercury to thrive on its soil, or a Malek to celebrate him.