Director sues SARFT after his LGBT movies were removed from Internet

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-9-29 5:03:02

Fan Popo. Photo: Li Hao/GT

 Fan Popo remembers vividly that he received criticism after making a film about cross-dressing men who were performing at a small pub in Nanning, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, not only from the general public but also from within the LGBT community.

Some people sent him messages saying he shouldn't have made the film because it focused on the "negative" side of the community. One person said he should've presented a more "normal" image of gay people, to make it easier for society to accept them.

Such criticism has been directed at almost all of his movies. He recently became the topic of conversation again after a court accepted his case on September 14 against the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), which he said had made video websites take down his movies about the homosexual community.

Legal battle

Starting from December 2014, Fan started noticing that some of his films can no longer be found on the Internet, including Mama Rainbow, a documentary he made in 2013 about how parents react to their children coming out as gay and how they eventually accepted their children.

Fan was angry and felt his work had been abused. He also felt confused about where the line was. He had no idea why his films were taken down.

He contacted one of the video websites,, and a staff member told him over the phone that they had received a request from SARFT to take down the movie because of its "inappropriate" content. Then he contacted the bureau to ask for this official information to be made public.

In March this year, he received a letter from SARFT saying there isn't an official document requiring his documentary be taken offline.

Fan doesn't believe SARFT's reply, and still thinks they ordered his film be taken down. "If there's some direct communication, I can at least ask why they thought my film was inappropriate and make changes," he said. "Now all I have is a wild guess."

On September 8, Fan's lawyer submitted materials to the No.1 Intermediate People's court in Beijing.

Seeing progress

Fan hasn't always been interested in directing. He entered the Beijing Film Academy in 2003, not knowing what he wanted to do.

What prompted him to start making LGBT films was seeing how they helped change the attitudes of a classmate. Fan shared a DVD player with a person who often said bad things about gay people and called them names. So from time to time, he recommended LGBT films or films that featured intimacy between people of the same sex, and gradually that classmate changed his views. He would start asking questions and having discussions with Fan about homosexuality.

By then, Fan, a gay man himself, had started thinking that making such movies might be the best way to approach his career. This way, he can actually have some influence and make changes. Later on, he focused specifically on documentary making.

Pushing boundaries 

Fan went on to make a couple more films. Many of his films were challenging for Chinese audiences.

He shot New Beijing New Marriage in 2009, a movie about two gay couples who chose to shoot their wedding photos in the traditional Qianmen area. After following them through the photo shoots and finishing all the scenes, Fan hit the streets and interviewed hundreds of people about homosexuality.

He received some interesting comments. Some were shocking but all reflect the ordinary people's attitude towards the LGBT community.

"I remember a man said to me, 'It's fine that women are getting married to women. Women should love women, and men should love women, but men can't love men.'"

Another interesting thing was that when he asked people whether they are okay with homosexuality, many said yes. But then he pressed further and asked if they would think it was okay if their relatives are gay, then often they would say that they wouldn't be able to accept a gay family member.

This gave him the idea to do a film about people who are in the closet in China, The Chinese Closet.

Fan also seized opportunities when on the go to shoot films. In 2011, while on a film tour in Nanning, the owner of a pub asked him to stay and watch a drag show. He stayed and talked with the people backstage, and he found they all had interesting reasons for being part of this scene.

One of the cross dressers was a white collar worker by day, and dances at the club by night. At first, he was concerned about being seen, but one night his coworkers came and saw him, and they became regulars just to see him perform. 

Being censored

Fighting censorship has always been an issue for Fan. He witnessed the censorship of a film festival when he was in college.

In 2005, the China Queer Film Festival, an event organized first by Peking University students in 2001, was cancelled. From what Fan understands, a projectionist at the school saw what was being shown and didn't feel comfortable with it, so he told school administrators, who told the organizers to call off the festival.

When he left school, these type of things became more common. Fan said he just has to live with it.

But he's happy to see that his films are affecting things. For example, people are now asking different questions at his film screenings.

"Before, some would come to our sessions and ask questions like 'How did you become a homosexual?'" Fan said. "That's not an answerable question at all, why don't they feel necessary to ask 'How did you become a heterosexual?'"

But now, the questions are more thoughtful and respectful.

Fan says he doesn't expect he can win this lawsuit. He wants to make a statement that people should fight censorship, instead of just complaining about it.

Besides his lawsuit, his work continues. At the moment, he's shooting another film, Papa Rainbow, about fathers accepting their gay children. He hopes the censorship situation can improve in the future.

"I feel ashamed that as a Chinese filmmaker, my films cannot be seen by Chinese audiences," Fan said.

Newspaper headline: Fighting to be seen

Posted in: Profile

blog comments powered by Disqus