Award-winning Chinese film director, screenwriter, novelist and gay rights activist Cui Zi’en paid a visit to campus Wednesday night, when he spoke with students following a screening of his film “Queer China, Comrade China” in the MultiCultural Center.
The hour-long film features interviews with Chinese homosexuals, LGBT advocates, sociologists, historians and gay bar owners, among others, who provide a historical account of the gay-rights movement in China during the early 2000s. After the film, UCSB East Asian language and cultural studies professor Michael Berry conducted an interview with Zi’en, who discussed his role as China’s leading homosexual filmmaker.
Zi’en has written or directed over a dozen films, and in 2002, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission presented him with the Felipa Award, in recognition of his work advocating same-sex love in Chinese culture and media. During Wednesday’s event, Zi’en said he has spent about 15 years channeling LGBT concerns and issues through his film work.
“I feel that creating these films pulls me closer to what the LGBT community is trying to accomplish in China,” Zi’en said. “We are behind where you guys are, here in America, in terms of LGBT acceptance. But films like mine hopefully help us catch up a little.”
The film started with an examination of Chinese discrimination towards homosexuality in the 1950s, when it was first viewed as a threat to a society. Many Chinese people of the time placed an emphasis on a nuclear, heterosexual family unit and oftentimes homosexuals during this time were labeled outcasts or ‘hooligans’ subject to police violence and social isolation from their families.
A general change of attitude toward homosexuals in China took pace at the start of the 21st century, as shown in the film, when a same-sex marriage bill was proposed in 2003. The proposal came around the same time as multiple LGBT film festivals and demonstrations, giving the Chinese LGBT movement momentum.
The end of the film featured discussion amongst current LGBT activists, some of whom are college students, trying to provide resources to those who identify as LGBT and educate others on their struggle.
Following the screening, Berry asked Zi’en about his films and role as a LGBT activist, and provided a translation from Zi’en’s Mandarin to English for the audience. According to Berry, Zi’en’s work has been groundbreaking for the movement.
“Zi’en is really the only film director to provide us with an overall history of homophobia in China. In that sense, his films are really exposing rare history,” Berry said.
“Queer China, Comrade China” was originally released in 2009 and ran for an hour in Mandarin, with English subtitles. A two-hour version of the film also exists, but the audience was shown the one-long version due to time constraints and Zien’s request for an extended Q&A session.
First-year film & media studies major Xindan Liang, an international student from China, said prejudice towards the LGBT community still occurs in her own hometown.
“Some of my friends back home support the LGBT community; others do not,” Liang said.