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3 Movies to Watch by Chinese Queer Film Pioneer Fan Popo

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When it comes to representation for LGBTQ+ communities on screen, China remains an extremely restrictive part of the world. Queer cinema-focused festivals and screenings continue to navigate an uncertain space, facing repeated interference and interruption, and even major international blockbusters face problems: in 2019, three whole minutes were cut from Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody by censors.

Against this backdrop, films about China’s queer communities and the issues that affect them continue to be made. Beijing-born filmmaker Fan Popo may be based in Berlin these days, but his name remains a prominent one when it comes to such stories. Over the past decade, he’s made a string of documentaries and experimental shorts around LGBTQ+ issues in China, in addition to helping organize the Beijing Queer Film Festival and founding the Queer University Video Training Camp.

Starting from 12 AM EST on January 15, streaming platform Montage will be making 9 of Fan’s films available — and offering RADII readers a 20% discount on the site with the code “RADIIChina” for all of their premium content.

Related:

In China, Queer Film Events Quietly Push for Education and Acceptance

As Montage points out, Fan’s filmography covers “LGBTQ issues, family issues, identity issues, gay rights, gay romance, transgender experience, fetishism, immigration, interracial gay romance and feminism in China.” So there’s a lot to dig into. But here are three highlights to give you an idea of what to expect.

Mama Rainbow (2012)

A moving documentary that has been shown at film festivals from LA to Mumbai, Mama Rainbow features six mothers from across China discussing their children’s sexuality and their not-always-straightforward path to acceptance.

The film uses an intensely personal lens to explore the societal pressures and attitudes that mean that finding out a child is gay can often be seen as a heartbreaking disaster for parents in China. But it also shows that there are people in the country working hard to change that.

This film was taken down from Chinese video sites reportedly at the behest of the authorities, something which prompted Fan to file a court case in 2015.

In 2016, Fan produced father-focused follow-up Papa Rainbow, which is also being made available for streaming by Montage.

Related:

“I Thought it was an Overseas Disease”: Supporting China’s LGBTQ+ Parents

Be a Woman (2011)

be a woman fan popo

Three years in the making, Be a Woman sees Fan follow a group of drag queens at a bar in the city of Nanning in Guangxi province, and close to the border with Vietnam. The documentary tracks the highs and lows for Zi-Qi, Bread, Lala and Shancun as they perform and mix at the Only-Love bar and “claim a place for themselves to live loudly in a world that would have them silenced.”

The Drum Tower (2019)

One of Fan’s more recent — and more experimental — offerings, The Drum Tower is a scripted short that was “the first film in China to feature all transgender actors in the leading roles.”

The 28-minute work loops together stories of identity and sexuality with those of urban development and in particular, Beijing’s “rezoning” and destruction of its old hutong neighborhoods.

Related:

9 Chinese Language LGBTQ+ Films Tackling the Diversity of Asian Queerness

These three films, along with six others by Fan Popo, are all available on Montage from 12 AM EST on January 15. Don’t forget to use your RADII discount — enter the code “RADIIChina” to get 20% off all Montage premium content.

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.