South Korean broadcaster censors gay kisses in 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

By Hangyun Kim, Medill News Service
Rami Malek won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for "Bohemian Rhapsody." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Rami Malek won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for "Bohemian Rhapsody." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- South Korean LGBTQ rights groups have condemned broadcaster SBS for censoring gay kiss scenes from the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, which focused on the life of rock band Queen lead vocalist Freddie Mercury.

One of South Korea's three major TV networks, SBS, aired Bohemian Rhapsody on Saturday evening as a part of a three-day blockbuster movie marathon to celebrate the Lunar New Year.


It is rare for a South Korean broadcaster to show a film with homosexual references.

SBS cut out kiss scenes between Mercury and Jim Hutton, whom Mercury referred to as his husband. SBS also overlapped mosaics to obscure images of other gay couples kissing in the background.

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The sanitized version of the film drew criticism from South Korea's LGBTQ rights organizations and civic groups. Rainbow Action, an umbrella organization of 40 LGBTQ advocacy groups, issued a statement Monday condemning the network for altering the film.

"SBS's decision to cut or obscure homosexual kiss scenes was an insult to Freddie Mercury, as well as the entire sexual minorities," Rainbow Action's Executive Chairman Lee Jong-gul said.

The rights group also said SBS changed the movie's message by cherry-picking clips to avoid sexual orientation topics. Mercury died of AIDS in 1991.


Adam Lambert, who has been sharing the stage with Queen as lead vocalist since 2011, criticized the South Korean broadcaster's censorship.

"Nothing explicit or lewd about that kiss. The double standard is real," Lambert said on Instagram.

Since its opening in October 2018, the film has attracted 9.64 million viewers in South Korea, according to the Korean Film Council, which also said it ranked as the sixth best-selling foreign title in South Korea.

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Among all the movies that were aired in South Korea during this year's Lunar New Year holiday, from Thursday to Saturday, only Bohemian Rhapsody exceeded a 4.0% viewer rating, an estimate of the percentage of households watching a particular program.

"Freddie Mercury was a charismatic legend, and his songs transcend time and culture," said Lee Minjeong, a college student who went to the cinema twice to watch Bohemian Rhapsody at its initial release. "But when the two men kissed each other, I remember hearing an audible gasp from all four corners of the cinema, so there is a long way to go for South Koreans to embrace LGBT relationships."

A 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found 44% of those surveyed in South Korea said homosexuality should be accepted; 53% responded it should be discouraged. In the North American and Western European countries surveyed, strong majorities said they accept homosexuality in society.


In 2015, the Korea Communications Standards Commission -- the government body that "ensures public accountability and safeguard the fairness of broadcast content" -- issued a warning to JTBC television station for airing kiss scenes between two high school girls in a drama series.

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