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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Why the Gay Kisses in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Won’t Make It to Chinese Cinemas
Fresh off its Oscar wins, “Bohemian Rhapsody” will hit theaters in China, but some scenes won’t make it to the Mainland.
In March 2019, Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic on the life and career of Freddie Mercury, will be released in theatres across mainland China, with various Chinese news outlets identifying the Chinese National Alliance of Arthouse Cinema (全国艺术电影联盟) as the movie’s distributor.
The National Alliance of Arthouse Cinema is a non-profit film distribution organization established in 2016. According to QDaily, the organization cooperates with major Chinese cinemas in distributing films throughout the country and has some 1500 member cinemas – about 3% of the country’s total number of movie theatres.
Various foreign media outlets, including The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter, report that portrayals of drug use and several intimate kisses between Mercury and other male characters will be cut from the Chinese version of the film, a decision that has been regarded as controversial by social media users both inside and outside of China.
Film Censorship in China
The Chinese movie industry is an area that has always been subjected to strict control and censorship. The first movie censorship laws in China were implemented as early as the 1930s, carried out by the Central Film Inspection Committee since 1931, with the purpose of legally prohibiting movies deemed “offensive to the Chinese public” (Pang 2011, 463; Zhu 2003, 202).
Theatrical releases in China are controlled by the SARFT (State Administration for Radio, Film, and Television), which is overseen by the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party (Grimm 162-163).
Throughout the years, China’s censorship apparatus has affected the screening of hundreds of foreign films in the PRC in a multitude of ways. The famous Titanic scene in which Rose (Kate Winslet) poses naked for Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), for instance, was cut from the Chinese version. In Mission: Impossible III a scene in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) distracts two Chinese henchmen and kills one was also eliminated in China.
In March 2017, a new film censorship law came into force in mainland China, officially titled the ‘Film Industry Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China’ (中华人民共和国电影产业促进法), laying out the regulations for prohibited content and content that must be cut. The law applies to the various pre-shooting and pre-screening stages, and is meant to “promote the healthy and prosperous development of the film industry.”
The law, as outlined here, stipulates that, among other things, movies cannot contain any elements that, for example:
- violate, resist, or undermine the basic principles of the constitution
- “harm national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity” or “damage the national dignity”
- “slander ethnic cultural traditions” or “instigate hostility towards ethnic groups”
- damage the “mental health of minors”
- harm China’s “social morality” or disturb the “order of society”
- promote “obscenities,” “gambling,” “drug abuse,” or “violence”
Although some of the stipulations in the law are straightforward, there are also many parts that are vague. How does one determine what is harmful to the “mental health of minors”? Is there an objective way to judge whether a film is “hurting the feelings of ethnic groups”? What is the censors’ definition of “obscene”?
In the end, these regulations leave ample room for the main censorship body, the SARFT, to determine case-by-case how and if foreign films that have been allowed to be screened in mainland China should be altered to stay ‘in line’ with the country’s strict censorship policies.
Banning Gay Content?
Homosexuality is no longer illegal in mainland China since 1997, and has been removed from a list of mental illnesses since 2001, but bans on content displaying homosexuality have made headlines over the years, highlighting the general discomfort of Chinese regulators towards gay-themed dramas and films.
In early 2016, Chinese State Administration released new regulations banning “homosexuality” in filmography for conveying “unnatural” values of love (Guangming Online). That same year, China’s popular gay-themed web series Addiction (上瘾) was yanked by censors due to disapproval at the plot’s lengthy exploration of homosexuality. A year later, Chinese regulators laid out rules stating that online videos showing “displays of homosexuality” were no longer allowed. In 2018, gay romance Call Me by Your Name was suddenly pulled from the Beijing film festival.
At the same time, there is no shortage of examples that show homosexuality has some leeway in China’s (online) film and media landscape. Last year, 2018, saw the mainland release of gay movie Seek McCartney (Looking for Rohmer) (寻找罗麦). Thai gay-themed film Fathers was released on popular video platform Bilibili in 2017.
An online video showing a young Chinese man coming out to his parents as gay became an online hit in 2015. And now, in 2019, Bohemian Rhapsody, centered around one of the LGBT community’s most global cultural icons, is set to hit the big screen in China – albeit censored.
Mixed signals? Confused censors? Not necessarily. According to renowned Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe, the Chinese government is not against homosexuality per se. At an Amsterdam symposium in 2014, the LGBT rights activist stated that “the government is not against homosexuality, but against sex in general.”
Such a stance was made explicit with the March 2017 Film Industry Promotion Law, which, in the words of a Beijing-based film director, has since forced many in the industry to “prioritize education over art” so that their work can get past the censors. Any scenes including (explicit) portrayals of prostitution, LGBT relations, extramarital affairs, polyamory, or pornography, will generally not be permitted to reach a large Chinese audience, wrapped in conservative rhetoric that accuses such scenes of “promoting obscenities” or being “harmful to the healthy development of Chinese minors.”
At a time of a rapidly transforming (and aging) China, “healthy content” is mostly the kind of content that depicts the conventional family – marriage and children – as the cornerstone of a stable Chinese society. Depictions of Freddy Mercury kissing other men, apparently, does not fit the ideal family model propagated by Chinese authorities; with the government’s ongoing trumpeting of the two-child policy, homosexuality’s refusal to be dictated by the laws of biological fertility may also be one of the many reasons motivating the censors’ decision to tone down the ‘gayness’ of Bohemian Rhapsody.
On Weibo, news about censorship of the Chinese release of Bohemian Rhapsody became a trending topic.
Although a large number of netizens are happy that the movie will be released in China, there are also many dissatisfied with the censorship that comes with it.
Some people argue that the selective cutting of scenes will be detrimental to the overall quality of the movie. Popular Weibo user ‘Gongyuan 1874’ (@公元1874), a self-proclaimed ‘author’ and ‘cultural critic’ with more than 3 million online followers, wrote a lengthy post on February 28 in which he describes Freddie Mercury as a “rebel fighter” whose life was defined by freedom. The author argues that the “artistic value of the movie is “greatly reduced” by censoring those parts that show Mercury letting himself go.
Some commenters are so disgruntled at the movie’s censorship that they are boycotting it. One Weibo user wrote: “Because I want to protest against the unfair treatment of LGBT by authorities, I will not go and see the edited version of Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“I’d advise everyone to go and get a pirated version of the movie,” another commenter writes: “Homosexuality and drugs were a part of Freddie Mercury’s life, to ‘castrate’ this movie is disrespectful [to his memory].”
There are also some more moderate netizens, well aware of the current restrictions placed on the film and TV industry, who argue that cutting some scenes – total scene time cut from the Chinese release is alleged to be no longer than two minutes – will leave the message conveyed by the movie unharmed, and that viewers should be grateful such a film is being screened in China at all.
“I have been watching the comments about Bohemian Rhapsody and the deleted gay scenes,” one music blogger writes: “Some people think it’s an insult to Freddie Mercury, and say we should boycott the movie. I think this kind of reasoning doesn’t show much goodwill.”
The blogger argues: “I think Freddie Mercury is a great singer, a well-respected artist, and an icon of his time – not just a representative for gays. The exploration of his own identity was a major influence in his life and artistic work, but if you insist on discussing the content of the film, the legendary experiences of the band…their artistic achievements and rock ‘n roll spirit are all relevant – all in all, don’t hold on to sexual orientation [as the most crucial theme].”
There are some who might agree, asking “is it necessary to screen those deleted gay scenes in China?”
Amid hundreds of comments on the issue, there is no clear consensus. While some point out that the Chinese release of a movie such as Bohemian Rhapsody is a sign of ‘progress’ in a strictly controlled media environment, others see its censorship as doing a disservice to the film’s main themes of artistic freedom and LGBT emancipation.
However, in an age where censors even go after heterosexual, ancient Chinese dramas, the mere entry of Bohemian Rhapsody into the Mainland perhaps suggests an atypical loosening of the stranglehold being placed on China’s TV and film industry. Any way the wind blows, apparently, does really matter to Chinese netizens.
References [online sources via in-text hyperlinks]
Grimm, Jessica. 2015. “The Import of Hollywood Films in China: Censorship and Quotas.” Syracuse J. Int’l L. & Com. 43 (1): 155-190.
Pang, Laikwan. 2011. “The State Against Ghosts: A Genealogy of China’s Film Censorship Policy.” Screen 52 (4): 461-476.
Zhu, Ying. 2003. Chinese Cinema During the Era of Reform: The Ingenuity of the System. Westport, Connecticut, London: Prager.
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“What Is Peppa?” – Viral Ad Campaign for ‘Peppa Pig’ Movie Makes the British Pig More Chinese Than Ever
It’s the Chinese new year of Peppa Pig.
“What is Peppa?” That is the question that is currently going viral on Chinese social media, with the hashtag #WhatisPeppa (#啥是佩奇#) receiving a staggering 400 million times on social media platform Weibo at time of writing.
The reason for the trend is an ad campaign, titled ‘What’s Peppa’, promoting the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year film, a production by Entertainment One and China’s Alibaba Pictures.
The promotional video (5:39 length, watch featured video), that came out via various online channels on January 17, focuses on a grandfather living in a remote rural village who is anticipating the Spring Festival reunion with his son and his family, who now live in a big city.
The grandfather, named Yu Bao, wants to know what gift to get for his little grandson. When calling his family on a bad connection through his old 2G mobile phone, the word “Peppa” is all he gets from his little grandson before his phone breaks down. But what’s Peppa?
Yu Bao then goes on a comical mission to find out what Peppa is: looking it up in the dictionary, asking his friends -who are just as oblivious as he is-, and asking the entire village.
At the local shop, it is suggested that ‘Peppa’ is some kind of shampoo.
Eventually, one of the female villagers, who used to be a nanny, knows what Peppa is. She tries to explain it to Yu Bao, who now even seems willing to paint his own pig pink for his grandson. She explains that it is a pink cartoon pig whose face looks somewhat like a traditional fire blower.
With some guidance, the grandfather then goes to work and creates a unique ‘Peppa Pig’ gift from a metal air-blower to surprise his grandson during Chinese New Year.
But much to his disappointment, he then receives a phone call from his son, who tells him they are not coming home for Chinese New Year – before the connection drops again.
As grandpa, sad and lonely, is walking by the side of the road, his son suddenly appears in his car, telling him that the connection dropped too soon; he was not just telling him the family was not coming for Chinese New Year, he was trying to tell him that they invited him to come to their home instead.
When the family is finally reunited, it is time for the proud grandfather to show the result of his difficult quest for Peppa to his grandson.
The grandpa’s mission is complete: he gives his grandson a one-of-a-kind Peppa Pig.
The commercial ends with the entire family enjoying the upcoming Peppa film in the cinema together. When a friend from the village calls the grandfather to let him know he finally found Peppa thanks to his new smartphone, Yu Bao says: “It’s okay, I found Peppa already!”
The last shot of the video shows Yu Bao’s friend, a sheepherder, standing with his new phone, while someone in the back plays the tune of the Peppa cartoon. The big slogan on the wall is partly based on a popular catchphrase from another Chinese ad, and says: “At the start of the New Year, don’t accept gifts; the whole family goes to the city to watch Peppa instead.”
What’s Peppa Pig?
Peppa Pig is a popular children’s cartoon that first aired as a British animated television series (produced by Astley Baker Davies) in May of 2004. It took more than eleven years before the show was officially launched in the PRC (CCTV/June 2015).
Since then, Peppa Pig has become one of the most popular programs for preschoolers in China. But not just preschoolers love the pig; it has also become highly popular among young adults, who wear Peppa t-shirts, Peppa watches, and are major consumers of China’s thriving Peppa industry.
In 2018, Chinese popular short video app Douyin (also known in English as Tik Tok) removed approximately 30,000 short videos relating to British cartoon Peppa Pig from its platform, as Peppa had turned into somewhat of a subversive symbol to a Chinese online youth subculture dubbed ‘shehuiren‘ (社会人) (read more here).
This news item led to some confusion in Western media, where it was often suggested that Peppa was completely banned in China. She is, in fact, not banned; she is now more popular than ever.
Peppa the Movie
Amid the huge success of Peppa in China, it was announced in the summer of 2018 that Chinese tech giant Alibaba was working together with Entertainment One on the release of a Peppa Pig movie especially for the Chinese market, as this year’s Chinese New Year is the start of the Year of the Pig.
The movie, titled ‘Peppa Pig Celebrates New Year’ (小猪佩奇过大年), is set for a nationwide release on February 5, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. This is the most popular time for big blockbusters to come out, as many people are free during Chinese New Year and have the time to go out to the cinema together with their families.
The movie itself revolves around Peppa and little brother George and their parents, who are having a reunion for the Spring Festival. It features various Chinese traditions, and of course, something unexpected will happen.
Why This Peppa Ad Campaign is So Brilliant
The Peppa ad has really struck a chord on Chinese social media for various reasons. The video was directed by Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏, 1984), who also directed the actual Peppa movie, and the campaign is also sponsored by China Mobile.
What this ad campaign does:
– It mixes the love for Peppa with the warm feeling of Chinese family reunions during Chinese New Year.
– It presents a nostalgic idea of the Chinese village community, where neighbors come together and look out for each other.
– It touches upon the issue of China’s rapid urbanization, that has caused many villages to become deserted and isolated as younger generations have settled in the cities.
– It highlights how China’s digitalization is leaving behind its elderly population (read more here).
– It shows the strong grandparent–grandchild relationship; usually, Chinese grandparents play an active role in raising grandchildren, something that has been changing due to younger generations moving to the city.
In other words; the advertisement completely draws the figure of Peppa Pig into a Chinese socio-cultural context, where it symbolizes the strong connection between Chinese families amid China’s rapid urbanization and digitalization.
By now, the Peppa campaign is making its rounds from Weibo to WeChat and elsewhere on the Chinese internet, with some online sellers already offering a remake of the Peppa present for sale as a collector’s item. Bloomberg reports that Chinese stocks connected to Peppa Pig have surged after the clip went viral yesterday and today.
“I give this video 100 points!” some commenters on social media write, with others saying it has made them tear up. “This already is the best ad campaign of the year.”
Peppa was already a famous figure in China, but with this viral hit and the upcoming movie, the British pig really has become a part of China’s popular culture and media environment: it’s the Chinese new year of Peppa Pig.
UPDATE (Jan 19): [Now passed one billion views] Want to understand more about this movie and its context? Check out our video here.
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