Six months after the Thai gay-themed film Fathers premiered in Thailand, it has now made its debut in China on November 27 under the Chinese title Liǎng gè Bàba 两个爸爸 [Two Fathers].
The film, directed by Platphol Mingpornpichit, tells the story of gay couple Phoon and Yuke, who have adopted an orphan son named Butr and come to face multiple social and legal problems throughout their journey in building a family.
Fathers realistically shows how Phoon and Yuke are confronted with their young son’s questions after he is teased in school for having “fag” fathers. In the 95-minute movie, the two fathers struggle to find their roles as fathers while staying true to themselves. “Love starts with two people, but family is more than just the two,” the movie’s tagline says.
Fathers premiered in China through “Heavenly Thai Drama” (Tianfutaiju), a platform promoting Thai pop culture through Weibo and other Chinese social media sites. On Sina Weibo, Tianfutaiju has over 1.8 million followers (@天府泰剧).
Tianfutaiju released the film, with Chinese and English subtitles, on its official channel on Chinese video platform Bilibili.com.
The film’s release is especially noteworthy in light of several incidents over the past year that have shown the general discomfort of Chinese regulators with gay-themed dramas and films. Popular gay-themed web drama Heroin (上瘾) was pulled offline earlier this year.
In early 2016, Chinese State Administration released new regulations that forbid “homosexuality” in filmography, as it supposedly conveys “unnatural” values of love (Guangming Online). The State Administration was sued by Chinese film director and gay activist Fan Popo, as his 2012 documentary on homosexuality Mama Rainbow (彩虹伴我心) was removed from all online video platforms by December 2014.
China’s first gay movie Seeking McCarthney (寻找罗麦) by director Wang Chao was supposed to hit Chinese cinemas shortly after March 2016, but according to the film’s Weibo page it has still not been officially released.
On Weibo, many netizens appreciate the release of Fathers. “I like this film, it’s very realistic,” one person says. Within a few hours after the movie’s release was announced on the Tianfutaiju Weibo site, it was shared over 690 times.
“I am so thankful to Tianfutaiju [for posting], I am moved to tears,” one netizen commented. Other netizens also expressed their joy that the movie was released on the Bilibili platform with Chinese subtitles: “I have been waiting a long time to see this film. Thank you so much.”
The film can be viewed here. Comments in the screen can be turned off in settings. (Note: What’s on Weibo is in no way associated with Tianfutaiju, its channel or Bilibili).
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Entertainment Shows and Foreign Programs Banned from Prime Time TV in China
China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) issued a notice this weekend that Chinese television stations should refrain from broadcasting TV dramas “focused on entertaining” or “programs with foreign elements” during primetime.
China’s SAPPRFT issued a notice this weekend regarding new regulations on primetime TV in China. The announcement, titled “Central Notice regarding the Orientation of Variety Channels and Platforms Broadcasting Cultural Items” (总局关于把电视上星综合频道办成讲导向, 有文化的传播平台的通知), was cited by all major official news outlets in China. The new guidelines drew some criticism on Chinese social media.
With the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China coming up this autumn, authorities have recently been strengthening control over Chinese websites, online videos, and television content.
The latest guidelines prescribe that TV series about “sensitive topics,” TV dramas “too focused on entertaining” (“娱乐性较强、题材内容较敏感的电视剧”), and programs with “foreign elements” should be banned from prime time TV in China.
Instead, authorities “encourage” TV channels to “increase the number and frequency of programs about things such as the public good, culture, science & technology, and economy” (“总局鼓励电视上星综合频道在黄金时段增加公益、文化、科技、经济类节目的播出数量和频次”).
China has around 2500 television channels at central, provincial, municipal and county level. Although they are commercialized, and often owned by a mixed group of investors, they are still supervised by the SAPPRFT and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) – all television stations have to adhere to government broadcasting guidelines.
According to Xinhua News and Global Times, the latest measures are meant to contain the “hyping of pop stars” (“追星炒星”). Chinese television programs should rather focus on celebrities with “high moral standards” who offer “an educational value for the society.”
The programmes aired by China Central Television (CCTV), China’s main state broadcaster, should “serve as an example” for other channels, Xinhua said.
“Now we’ll all just have to watch the red classics, worship the Party and adore the military.”
Luo Ping, a media expert with the Communication University of China, was quoted by Global Times; about restricting programs with foreign elements on Chinese TV, Luo said: “Without careful examination, these foreign programs could easily deliver negative or harmful messages about our country, which will have a huge social impact.”
Although discussions of this topic were limited on Chinese social media, the people who commented on the latest measures were not pleased.
China has one of the world’s most booming TV drama industries in the world. Daily, millions of Chinese TV drama fans tune in to their favorite shows – nothing is trending more often on Chinese social media than the titles of the most popular TV dramas.
“Oh man, now I can only watch the news when I get home from work..”, one netizen complained.
Another female Weibo user commented on the latest guidelines with a short monologue:
“What do you think about the latest restrictions?”
– “Can I use profanities?”
“No you can’t.”
– “Then I have nothing to say.”
“Now we’ll all just have to watch the red classics, worship the Party and adore the military,” one anonymous Weibo user wrote.
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A Film Lover’s Complaint: Netizens Weary of China’s “Domestic Movie Protection Month”
During the summer season, big international movies are blocked from Chinese cinemas. The policy, meant to boost China’s domestic film industry, is a dreaded one amongst China’s movie-loving social media users.
This summer, while big Hollywood films such as Spiderman: Homecoming or War of the Planet of the Apes are riding the heat wave in North America, audiences in China will not be seeing them until end of August. The only big western film they can see during this two-month-period is Despicable Me 3.
The measure is a much-dreaded one on Chinese social media, where many young people complain that now that they finally have the time to go and see their favorite movies in the cinema, they can’t because they are blocked: “I’m always in school and can’t see any movies. Now that I’m free I still can’t see them.”
DOMESTIC FILM PROTECTION MONTH
“What once started out as a month-long Hollywood ‘blackout’ has gradually extended over the years.”
The reason behind the delay is the “invisible hand” of the Chinese state. During the summer holidays, the Chinese National Film Board blocks many imported foreign blockbusters, a phenomenon called “Domestic Film Protection Month” (国产电影保护月).
The term was allegedly coined in 2004, when Chinese media reported about an order restricting screening foreign films between June 10 and July 10 each year. According to Baidu Baike (百度百科), Baidu’s equivalent of Wikipedia, there are no publicly available official documents defining this policy.
The term was also used in an item published by regional media in 2006. The article (“国产电影保护月”沈阳遇冷引发议论“) states that the policy was launched in order to protect China’s domestic movie business. During “Domestic Film Protection Month,” as it was dubbed by the media and film industry, it is not “encouraged” to show big foreign films in China’s cinemas.
What once started out as a month-long Hollywood ‘blackout’ has gradually extended over the years. Currently, the blocking of foreign blockbusters lasts around 2 months each summer.
Although the measure was never officially admitted by government officials, this unspoken policy has been executed for the past 14 years. The policy has also extended to several other major national holidays like Chinese New Year and the National Day holiday. During these holidays, a majority of China’s population is off work – a peak moment for cinemas.
BOOSTING CHINA’S FILM INDUSTRY
“The scene in which Tom Cruise’s character kills two Chinese henchmen was one of those eliminated scenes, as it was deemed ‘truly insulting'”
There are various ways in which the Chinese state interferes in the movie industry to support and protect domestic film production. Besides the “Domestic Film Protection Month” and other measures – such as opening two big Hollywood movies on the same day – there is also a limit to the number of foreign films accepted into China’s cinemas; Chinese audiences can only see 34 overseas films per year. Revenues from these films are shared between the Chinese film distributors and the western producers.
The measurements are part of a wider campaign to boost the domestic film industry. In the 2005-2012 period, only one-third of China’s domestic movies were screened by China’s major cinemas; up to 80% of Chinese film projects lost money as a consequence. The ‘blackout’ periods need “to ensure that Hollywood films account for no more than 50% of the market in any given year” (Su 2016).
Some of the films that were postponed in China over the past decade include Spider-Man 2 (2004), Mr. Smith&Mrs Smith (2004) Garfield (2006), Transformers (2007), Harry Potter (2011), Ben-Hur (2016), and many others.
But support for domestic films is not always the only reason why the release of Hollywood films is postponed in Chinese cinemas. The process of translation and censorship also contributes to the final date a western film is released in China.
The release of Mission Impossible 3 in 2006, for example, was delayed because some scenes filmed in Shanghai needed to be erased. The scene in which Tom Cruise’s character kills two Chinese henchmen was one of those eliminated scenes, as it was deemed “truly insulting” by the China Film Group. The film could only be released after this part was censored.
“Despite the endless efforts, Hollywood films are still making substantially more money than their domestic rivals in Chinese cinemas.”
Despite the endless efforts, Hollywood films are still making substantially more money than their domestic rivals in Chinese cinemas. In 2016, Terminator Genysis was the first big foreign film to come out after the ‘protection month.’
This film, that was rather mediocre considering its ratings and ticket sales in North America, received a warm welcome from Chinese audiences: it made a staggering RMB 181 million (USD 27million) on its opening day. Thanks to its sales in China, this film could be deemed – financially at least – a success.
Despicable Me 3, the only western film to have been allowed outside of this summer’s ‘Hollywood blackout’, exceeded RMB 300 million (USD 44.6m) in ticket sales within 2 days after its release. As of 31st July, 25 days after in Chinese cinemas, that number had already risen to RMB 990 million (±USD 147m).
Ironically, its success also comes as a result of the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’. As some netizens say on Weibo: “Thanks to the domestic film protection month, ???, I’ve seen too many sh*t films; I need to see some cartoon [Despicable Me 3] to wash my eyes.”
A FILM-LOVER’S COMPLAINT
“I’m in despair – when will the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’ finally be over?!”
On Chinese social media, many other film-loving netizens also complain about the summer restrictions on foreign movies and express their wish to watch big foreign films at the same time as the rest of the world. Many also indicate they would rather support movies based on their quality than where come from.
“I’m in despair – when will the ‘Domestic Film Protection Month’ finally be over?!” some commenters asked.
“Are you done protecting your stuff yet? I’m waiting,” others said.
Despite the criticism, there are also netizens who say they hope that China’s domestic cinema can grow and develop into a more thriving industry. Their wishes might be fulfilled, as recent reports show that Chinese films such as Wolf Warrior 2 (战狼2) are benefiting from the fact that China blocks international competition from the market during this period; the patriotic blockbuster made a massive $130M debut this summer.
Some netizens are satisfied despite the restrictions, and praised the movie on their Weibo account, adding: “Wolf Warrior 2 has become the movie hit of the summer. I didn’t expect it – it’s not easy to see a good movie during the ‘protect movies’ summer season.”
This article has been revised by the editor.
©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
References (online references linked to through text):
Su, Wendy. 2016. China’s Encounter with Global Hollywood. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.