When Bohemian Rhapsody’s star Rami Malek and producer Graham King won their respective Golden Globes for Best Actor and Best Picture in the drama category earlier this month, there was one name conspicuously missing from their acceptance speeches: Bryan Singer, the film’s director.
Singer, best known for directing several X-Men movies, had been infamously fired from the film with just weeks left in production in December 2017 — usually a terrible development for a movie, especially one with awards potential. But Malek, King, and the rest of the team behind the film have deftly spent the majority of awards season talking about Singer as little as humanly possible. Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of the rock band Queen and its outrageous frontman Freddie Mercury, has been a massive hit, earning over $800 million worldwide, and on Tuesday, the film earned five Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Actor. It looked like pretending Singer didn’t exist was actually working.
But a little more than 24 hours after the Oscar nominations were announced, the Atlantic published a bombshell story alleging that Singer had sexually assaulted underage boys, including a 13-year-old on the set of his 1998 film Apt Pupil. Allegations of sexual misconduct have dogged the director since the late ’90s; just after Singer was fired from Bohemian Rhapsody, he was hit with a civil lawsuit alleging he had raped a 17-year-old boy aboard a yacht in 2013.
Singer has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual misconduct, and he did so again through a lawyer in the Atlantic story. That piece, however, contained damning new allegations and painted a comprehensive and dismaying portrait of Singer’s alleged pattern of sexual activity with minors.
It’s hard to know how Singer’s career will survive. What will become of Bohemian Rhapsody is harder to perceive.
In the history of the Academy Awards, nothing has ever quite happened like this, with the director of a current Best Picture nominee, already persona non grata from his own film, suddenly disgraced anew. Winning an Academy Award really can mean something in Hollywood; Harvey Weinstein built his empire on the back of the prestige conferred by the 81 times his movies took home an Oscar, and the hundreds more they were nominated for. One alleged Singer victim in the Atlantic story expressed dismay that Bohemian Rhapsody was being honored by Hollywood in this manner.
“The industry will brush things under the rug and pretend nothing happened,” he said in the story.
And in a series of interviews with industry insiders and Oscar experts, BuzzFeed News found Bohemian Rhapsody's awards prospects remain largely unchanged from before the Atlantic story was published: The movie will almost certainly not win Best Picture, because it never was going to. But Malek continues to be a frontrunner for Best Actor for his transformative performance as Mercury.
A source with knowledge of Fox's Oscars strategy said the studio plans to stay the course.
“There’s no change,” the source said. Ignoring Singer has gotten the movie this far, after all. Meanwhile, there's been no “campaigning for Bryan — he was fired off the movie,” the person added.
“I think the nominations are less about how the industry views Singer than it is about the PR coup they’ve accomplished in delinking the movie to the man,” a veteran industry source said.
Indeed, on Wednesday, repeated attempts to get Fox, King, and Malek's representatives to acknowledge the Atlantic story proved to be impossible.
As for Malek's chances, one Academy voter told BuzzFeed News how much voters he talks to genuinely like Bohemian Rhapsody — and that he happily plans to vote for Malek.
“It's a wonderful performance,” he said. “And I don't think anyone is going to blame Rami Malek for Bryan Singer. I think he's going to win.”
Tom O'Neil, the awards pundit who runs goldderby.com, said the Best Actor race is currently between Malek and Christian Bale for Vice (and that Bradley Cooper may be a third contender if voters feel sorry for him that he wasn't nominated for Best Director for A Star Is Born). Voters don't tend to punish “individual performers” for a movie's controversies, he said, pointing to the fact that Mahershala Ali remains the Best Supporting Actor frontrunner for Green Book despite that film's many public relations problems.
O'Neil said that, so far, Malek has also run a great campaign.
“Rami has run a very shrewd ground game across Hollywood during awards season, cheerfully attending all key award shows, Q&A screenings, and private parties,” he said. “I was seated at the table next to him at the Critics' Choice Awards and I was very impressed all night long with how agreeable he was with the scores of annoying fans who demanded selfies and chitchat with him. He genuinely seemed to thrive on the excitement and attention.”
One industry insider agreed that Malek's chances for Best Actor are as good as they ever were.
“He has a lot of goodwill, and people seem to love the film,” the source said. “I think it comes down to Rami and Bale. And I suspect Bale pulls it out because of the degree of difficulty that role required.”
Anne Thompson, editor at large at Indiewire and a veteran entertainment journalist, sees the issue boiling down to a simple question: “Do Academy voters believe that Bryan Singer’s issues should affect the movie? … I don’t know if in the current #MeToo environment, the Academy voters are going to hold anyone on the movie responsible.”
The Academy voter put it more bluntly: “If Rami Malek were fucking young boys, he'd be toast. Since there's a degree of separation, he's the favorite.”
But Thompson noted that the road ahead may also be affected by how Malek chooses to address the allegations against Singer, especially if enough people are not happy with how the actor is answering the questions that are being asked — “because it’s a challenge to think he has absolutely no idea about this.”
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week, Malek said he was “not aware of” the allegations against Singer before signing onto Bohemian Rhapsody.
“In order to win an Oscar, you have to have a perfect sense of everything going right,” Thompson said. “If too many things go wrong, it can make an impact.”
There is a world, though, where the Atlantic story actually benefits Malek's Oscars chances. In it, he and Singer are portrayed as having an adversarial relationship on set, which BuzzFeed News reported at the time of Singer’s firing. One director who has had extensive, negative interactions with Singer, and who did not want to be identified in order to speak freely, expressed sympathy for Malek.
“I feel for Rami Malek because his performance was extraordinary and award-worthy,” the director said. “It must have been an extremely difficult work environment.”