Filmmakers explore challenges gay life presents for Chinese families in China and abroad

Saving Face film
Source: Saving Face film cover
Homosexuality is a complicated topic in Chinese society, both in China and abroad.

Sophia Lavara directs Inside the Chinese Closet, a new documentary filmed in China about how families in this country hide a son or daughter’s homosexuality by pressuring them into fake marriages. Huck Magazine reports:

Both Cherry and Andy, the protagonists in the feature, have come out to their parents; frank and uncomfortable discussions between families are depicted on screen. “These marriages are still for the parents,” explains Sophia, “it’s funny to say that, as parents know their children are gay, but as long as they go on to have a “normal” life, getting married and bearing a child, the parents are seemingly happy.” Sophia suggests parents are less concerned by their children’s sex life, or with the gender of those people with whom they go on to have an affair.

“These marriages are for the extended family, for friends and for neighbours too, it’s a way of saving face”, she explains.

There’s even an app in China for matching up fake husbands with fake wives and it’s popular! Queers has over 400,000 users. Britain’s Independent explains why:

With homosexuality illegal until 1997 and prejudice still rife, gays and lesbians are increasingly joining forces – with the help of matchmaking apps – to appease their conservative families, writes Jamie Fullerton in Shanghai.

And then there’s Alice Wu’s notable work Saving Face, which was inspired by her own experiences coming out as a lesbian in the Chinese American community. This plot synopsis from Wikipedia:

Wilhelmina (“Wil”), a young Chinese American surgeon lives in New York. Forced by her mother Gao to come to the typical gathering at Planet China amongst family friends, Wil is closeted to her mother and the rest of the older adults. Her mother has plans to set her up with a son of a friend. Wil is drawn to Vivian, the daughter of one of the Chinese mothers who recently got a divorce. They run into each other at the hospital where Wil works, only to discover that Vivian’s father is Wil’s boss.

Wil comes home to discover her mother has been kicked out by her grandfather for being pregnant out of wedlock, bringing shame to the family. Wil asks for the identity of the father, but Gao refuses to answer. Vivian invites Wil to one of her dance shows and after the show, the two hang out. Vivian reveals the fact that they had met once before when they were children; Vivian kissed Wil on the nose after Wil rescued her from bullies; Wil ran away afterwards. Vivian and Wil go to Vivian’s house and the two kiss.

The couple goes on several dates, but Wil is afraid of kissing Vivian in public. Gao goes on several dates to find a man to father her child but remains uninterested. She debates on whether to accept the affections of Cho, one of the men whom had liked her for 15 years and is willing to father the child. On Vivian’s request, Wil presents Vivian to her mother as a friend so that they can meet and the three share an awkward dinner. It is revealed that her mother knows of her homosexuality, but is in denial of it.

Just over 10 years ago, the French and Canadian film Chinese Botanist’s Daughter released in 2005 could not get permitting to shoot it in China where the story took place, because it covers the topic of homosexuality, and was shot in Vietnam instead. In the film the woman protagonists are eventually sentenced to death for being lesbians and executed.

Ang Lee
Source: Wikipedia
Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was released in Mr. Lee’s home country of Taiwan in 2006. It was a significant film on many levels and won the director his first Academy Award for Best Director. Wikipedia provides context for understanding the film’s cultural relevance:

Lee’s earlier films, such as The Wedding Banquet, Pushing Hands, and Eat Drink Man Woman explored the relationships and conflicts between tradition and modernity, Eastern and Western. Lee also deals with repressed, hidden emotions in many of his films, including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Ice Storm; Hulk; and Brokeback Mountain. Lee’s work is known for its emotional charge, which critics believe is responsible for his success in offsetting cultural barriers and achieving international recognition.

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