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Queer directions

Queer directions

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Cui Zi'en is infamous in China for being at the vanguard of LGBT portrayal in Chinese cinema. To date, he is the only director in the media conservative country tackling gay issues in his movies. The Advocate sat down with Cui Zi'en to talk about being outspokenly gay, his upcoming projects, and what advice he has for his fans.

Rent boys are Cui Zi'en's thing. It's no secret that China's most outspoken gay filmmaker and author likes to focus his lens on male prostitutes - check out Money Boy Diaries (2003) and Night Scene (2004) for starters.

While not all of his movies are about rent boys, or even gays, this avant-garde filmmaker is famous for making homosexuality a public issue in China. In the face of official criticism, Cui's appeared on TV, written books, screenplays, articles, given lectures, and organized gay and lesbian film festivals in a bid to get people talking about the mainland's queer community. To mark his contribution to improving gay awareness in China, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission gave Cui a Felipa Award back in 2002.

The Advocate met with the soft-spoken Cui on a chilly Beijing spring day at the Beijing Film Academy -- where he is an Associate Professor -- to find out how he's dealing with those conservative forces, what he's been working on, and exactly why he likes rent boys.

What kind of official pressures do you face beingChina's only outspoken gay director?

Cui: I am often criticized by media and professionals in the film and art world. They let me know that they don't trust me. It's almost impossible to get my books published here... I've been waiting years for permission. I can't get official approval to screen my movies... You know, I've been at this academy for 20 years but I have only been allowed to teach for 3 and 1/2 of those years. Sometimes students ask me to teach privately, but if I'm found out I'm criticized by the Academy.

Are gay movies per se banned here?

Cui:Chinese censors never clearly say what they object to and there are no clear rules about not being able to show a gay movie. We just have to submit our work and wait to see their reaction.

Your movies are mainly gritty, low-budget underground digital video productions and are often marked by an absurdist sense of humor. In Star Appeal, for example, you have a naked alien from Mars seduce a straight human male. Which of your films are you most proud of?

Cui:I don't have any that I could single out. I make different films at different times and I have different feelings about them.

Which director has inspired you the most?

Cui:I have just published a book called Memory of Light and Shadow in which I discuss more than 20 directors that I admire. But if you force me to name two I would say Giuseppe Tornatoreand Pedro Almodovar.

How does being outspokenly gay affect your work?

Cui:I feel I can access creativity through my gayness. Being a gay in China, you are always having to create. You need to break or bend the rules to get people to accept you.

How about all these rent boys? Why do you focus on male prostitutes in so many of your films?

Cui:Gay prostitutes are on the edge of gay society. You can learn about the whole of gay society by looking at the edge. You can't do that just by looking at the average gay guy.

What are you working on now?

Cui: I'm just finishing up three films - one feature and two documentaries. The first is an experimental movie called Only Child in the Family. I was inspired by the work of British director Derek Jarman. It's not a gay movie but there is a gay subplot. Then there's We Are Communists -- a documentary about the children of migrant workers. The last one's called One Meat Dish, Three Vegetable Dishes. That's a collection of four stories about people's lives in Beijing- one has a gay storyline.

Is the gay segment the meat dish?

Cui only smiles.

What do you see as the biggest problem for gays inChinatoday?

Cui:The biggest problem for gays in China today is that society hasn't given them the public space to be gay; most people have a distorted image of what gay people are like.

And this problem reroutes back into gay society. Instead of seeing themselves as they really are, gays see themselves through the eyes of society and so they don't have a true picture of who they are.

Do you have any message for your gay fans?

Cui:Gays and lesbians are not made of gold, but we are the touchstone of society. How we are treated is a test for whether that society is good or not.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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