Monday, June 13, 2016

HRW ’16: Inside the Chinese Closet

Hallmark should start marketing fake anniversary cards in China, because it is clearly a very real phenomenon. For serious social and economic reasons, China’s gay men and lesbians are entering into marriages of convenience, but quite undestandably, they try to hold out for a fake spouse that will also be a good friend. An unlikely form of courtship is documented in Sophia Luvarà’s Inside the Chinese Closet (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York.

Andy is quite popular in his circle, but he has largely curtailed his social life, in order to find a fake wife, per his father’s instructions. He came out with his parents, but that is as far as they will let him take it. His father is particularly adamant insisting he marry a fake wife (they use precisely those terms) to keep up appearances and more importantly to procreate. Instead of having fun, he now attends meet-ups for gays and lesbians looking for romantically fake but very real partners. After all, they will be legally joined and most likely will have to fake it together at family and work functions.

Cherry already has a fake husband, but her parents are still pushing her to have children. Since this apparently will not happen in a biological fashion, they have actively explored illegal adoption avenues on her behalf. It is a sore subject, because Cherry is not similarly inclined. She entered into her fake marriage so she could live with her real partner in peace.

Needless to say, there is no recognition of same sex marriage in China. Homosexuality was demonized under Mao as a pathological manifestation of western depravity, but laws were relaxed in the late 1990s. Yet LGBT content is still routinely censored in the media (along with political, historical, and hetero erotic content). That is a little helpful context Luvarà might have incorporated.

Indeed, her focus on Andy and Cherry is arguably too narrow. We understand they are stuck in awkward positions, but the reasons why are only briefly explored. The two primary causes of the pressure their parents so obviously feel are China’s absence of economic safety nets and the One Child Policy. Even today, grown children are largely expected to care for their parents in retirement. With justification, Andy and Cherry’s parent worry who will care for them if they have no children of their own. Despite some loosening of the law, most parents still only get one child, regardless of their orientation, who becomes the sole hope for grandchildren to continue the family line. Luvarà briefly touches on the first point, but completely ignores the latter.

Still, the sensitivity with which she handles her primary subjects is admirable. In fact, Andy comes to regard her as his counselor-confessor-confidante. As a result, she captures a very personal (and admittedly subjective) perspective on LGBT life in China. Nonetheless, more context is almost always better. Recommended for what it is, Inside the Chinese Closet screens this Friday (6/17) at the IFC Center and Saturday (6/18) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York.