China Approves Film About Gay Love Story for First Time

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The film's director, Wang Chao, announced the decision via Chinese social media, calling it "a small step for the regulator and a big step for filmmakers."

For the first time ever, China's movie regulators have approved the release of a film featuring gay central characters, with some in the local industry hailing the decision as a watershed moment for the Chinese film community and broader culture. 

The film, Seek McCartney, was co-produced in China and France. It follows two men, one Chinese and one French, who are involved in a secret cross-cultural relationship. Popular Chinese singer and actor Han Geng and French actor Jeremie Elkaim play the leads. The film's director, Wang Chao, announced the decision via Weibo, calling it "a small step for the regulator and a big step for filmmakers."

According to sources in the Chinese state press, China's movie watchdog took one year to arrive at its decision. The film is expected to get a modest release in Chinese theaters this winter.

"Not easy, but gratifying," Wang added on Weibo. His last film, Fantasia, competed in the 2014 Cannes Film Festival's Un Certain Regard section.

Another Chinese film, The Dead End, from director Baoping Cao, includes a passionate kiss between two male actors and managed to pass the censors earlier this year. But local screenwriter and film critic Cheng Qingsong told Chinese tabloid Global Times that Seek McCartney is "China's first film about a gay relationship in the true sense," adding," this is a big step forward [for China's film industry]."

Xiaogang Wei, director of Queer Comrades, an advocacy group in China, told THR: "We welcome this decision of the regulator, and hope it can welcome a new era of diversity and LGBTQI visibility in Chinese mainstream cinema." 

Prominent voices in the Beijing LGBTQ community are urging caution, however. "The fact that this film can be released in theaters doesn't mean gay films in the future will be able to be released in China," Fan Popo, a Beijing-based filmmaker and LGBTQ rights activist, told the Associate Foreign Press. "China's system for evaluating films is still very unstable, because the rules are very unclear. It depends heavily on the individual censor's whims."

China decriminalized homosexuality in 1997, and it was only removed from the Ministry of Health's list of mental illnesses in 2001. In 2005, Ang Lee's Oscar-winning cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain was banned from release in cinemas, despite the director's star status in greater China. In 2010, China's media watchdog removed homosexuality from its list of taboo subjects deemed too pornographic or vulgar for public consumption.

LGBTQ groups in China are still barred from registering as official non-governmental organizations, and activists frequently face official harassment, particularly when they try to publicize events and campaigns.