“Marriage is like politics, if you don’t like each other at least there must be understanding”, explains one of the real-life characters in Inside the Chinese Closet, a new documentary about gay life in China presented as part of the 30th BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival taking place this week. The film was made by Italian-born and London-based filmmaker Sophia Luvarà.
Getting married, having a baby and therefore not drawing any attention to oneself (by abiding to strict social rules) appear to define the life of most Chinese people. Homosexuality is tacitly accepted as long as one gets married to someone of the opposite sex and they have a child. This requirement has triggered a large market for sham marriages in China, where gay men typically spouse lesbians.
Andy is a successful gay man working as an architect in Shanghai and searching for a wife. Cherry is a lesbian already married to a man and now looking to have a baby. Neither of their parents has accepted their homosexuality, and yet they have not disinherited and refused their gay children. Fake marriage and parenthood are the tipping factors towards acceptance. Fake marriage overrides homophobia, it seems.
Inside the Chinese Closet follows the lives of these two young Chinese homosexuals as they make life-changing decisions. The camera never feels invasive, as characters seem to speak at their own pace and will, and there is no manipulative voice-over. Despite being made by a European director, this film feels like the voice of the Chinese.
Both Andy and Cherry believe that their parents “went inside of the closet” as soon as their children came out of it. It seems that an entire country is in denial of its homosexuals, and China is clearly unable to reconcile economic growth with personals freedoms.
China is the largest country in the world; it presumably has the largest gay population, too. Earlier this month, the country banned depictions of homosexuality on television, in a controversial new law. Overall, gay rights seem to be moving in the wrong direction in China, and so enormity of this issue as well as the urgency of this documentary cannot be overstated.
The film Here Come the Brides (Fábia Sartori Fuzeti, 2016; just click here in order to find out more) provided a picture of gay marriage in Brazil, the second largest country in the world to recognise it (after the United States). In the film, Gabriela cries upon finding out that her grandparents will not attend her lesbian wedding. In Inside the Chinese Closet Cherry’s grandparents never visit their grandchild not because she is gay, but simply because she is a girl (there were hoping for a male heir). This indicates that China’s social conservatism is so deeply-rooted that it affects not just homosexuals, but also women in general. The Chinese closet is double-locked for lesbians.
In a way, Luvarà’s film is still in the closet as well. The director explained to DMovies that the names of the characters in the film are not real, and that the crew went to China on a tourist visa because the Chinese government never gave them authorisation to make the film. She also clarified: “we were very careful while filming, and never used any tripods or big equipment”.
Inside the Chinese Closet is part of the 30th BFI London LGBT Film Festival, which DMovies is covering live right now. Just watch the film trailer below and click here for more information about the Festival.