I have been working on a short documentary film-essay that explores China’s independent queer cinema and its production context during the past two decades. Focusing on gender, sexuality, and politics, my project addresses multiple related topics. For example, I am identifying a set of common features that may be said to characterize this queer cinema. An important part of my process is analyzing how this cinema reflects China’s 21st-century LGBTQ+ political and cultural developments. In my analysis, embattled queer activists play a key role in the face of traditional gender and sexual norms—which have seen pronounced reinforcement in the form of state-driven censorship, propaganda, and denunciations. In addition, I explore how China’s LGBTQ+ cinema interacts with the global LGBTQ+ media landscape that remains dominated by Western, predominately white nations. To that end, my project identifies one set of China’s queer cinema that approximates an indigenous Chinese notion of queerness and another that explicitly employs the language and other signifiers of Western queer culture.
To explore these questions, I have been carrying out a task that is exciting yet also daunting: finding and watching countless hours of Chinese content with LGBTQ+ themes. The task is daunting because I must be thorough. Even if I can never do a truly comprehensive survey, I am motivated by the worry that I might miss something crucial. Fortunately, my search has been aided by generous staff at queer film festivals in Taiwan and Mainland China. As important havens and curators of Asia’s LGBTQ+ cinematic culture, these festivals have pointed me to films and filmmakers that I never would have discovered otherwise. This summer, I am fortunate to serve on the selection committee for the upcoming Beijing Queer Film Festival. This has given me the privilege of watching the latest LGBTQ+ films originating in China!
I watch all of these films with my guiding questions in mind as I make notes on spreadsheets. With the aim of gathering material for my final “product” (the documentary film essay), I must annotate excerpts from the films that correspond to the various themes that my project explores. Along with these film excerpts, I am gathering a set of news media and user-generated footage related to LGBTQ+ political/cultural developments in China, such as videos from Douyin (the Chinese name for TikTok). Finally, my original contribution to this area of study is a series of virtual interviews that I am conducting with LGBTQ+ activists, scholars, and film professionals from or within China.