The Norwegian film explores everyday themes through a suspenseful plot.
In America, we have pride parades. In China, there are covert fake marriage meetups for gay men to find lesbian women to marry. And this is just one of the abject differences in our cultures outlined in Inside the Chinese Closet, a gripping testimony of two parallel journeys through the veiled lives of LGBT Chinese people.
One, a lesbian named Cherry, tries to avoid dealing with children even as her mother desperately attempts to buy one illegally so she has someone to “take care of her when she’s old”. Her fights with her family become less pointed and increasingly unguarded under the scrutiny of the camera, and she even deigns to discuss her girlfriend. Growing up in a rural village, she is unable to even attempt to explain being a lesbian to people like her father- who she says would beat her to death if he knew.
Andy, a gay man “popular in the bear community”, or a specific type of gay male subculture, is trying to find a child. His father demands a child and he is determined to fulfill the request. When attempting to buy one from Taiwan, he discovers recent laws have made it illegal to take a child there. He turns to the fake marriage plot, meeting with several different lesbians and assuring them he will accept artificial insemination rather than, as one derisively puts it, “the natural way”.
What makes the documentary so chilling is the fact that these closeted LGBT people are not the youths we’ve come to know, struggling with their identity and figuring out how to navigate through the rainbow cities of America. These are middle-aged Chinese citizens, well into their lives and careers, who have known who they are for quite some time. They just can’t tell anyone- save for trusted friends and some, not all, family members. Another gripping film from the Human Rights Watch film festival, this will make anyone comfortable in the changing ways of America remember that Western ideals haven’t reached all corners of the globe.
We spoke with Ilene Chaiken about “Empire,” her impact on the LGBT community, and more.