The Beijing International Film Festival has dropped the Oscar-winning gay romance Call Me By Your Name, a move that highlights the lack of progress for LGBTQ rights in China. The censorship of the film occurred just days after China shifted control of all its film and media to the Department of Propaganda and, on the digital front, banned video spoofs and parodies.
The film festival, set for this April, had planned to show Call Me By Your Name (directed by Luca Guadagnino), a film about a romance between a 17-year-old boy and a college graduate student taking place in Italy in the 1980s. An anonymous source told Reuters the screening proposal didn’t pass through the regulators’ scrutiny. Call Me By Your Name was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture and Timothée Chalamet was a nominee for Best Actor, while James Ivory won Best Writing Adapted Screenplay.
Homosexuality is legal in China, but there’s heavy social stigma around identifying as gay. It’s hard to be “out and proud,” says Christine Liu, an activist who has been involved in LGBTQ and feminist movements in China. Same-sex marriage is still not legally recognized, and only 39 percent of Chinese residents think it should be, a survey by Chinese nonprofit WorkForLGBT revealed, as cited by Advocate.
Films featuring plots about homosexuality in China are generally met with mixed reactions and few make it past the censors. Other instances of LGBTQ censorship in China include when a kiss between two androids played by Michael Fassbender was cut from 2017’s Alien: Covenant, in addition to other gory moments in the film.
While it’s not the first instance of censorship of LGBTQ-friendly films in China, the censorship of Call Me By Your Name is the first notable move by authorities after China’s film, TV, and news outlets were moved under the propaganda department’s instruction. China’s already state-run outlets have all been merged into a conglomerate named the “Voice of China” after the government noted the “especially important role of cinema in propagating ideas and in cultural entertainment.” The department is also overseeing books, magazines, and radio stations, as confirmed by a Chinese report from state-run outlet Xinhua.
Beijing also blocked parodies and “mocking” videos last week from all online platforms, in a directive issued by the same administration two days after it ordered the media merge. The directive was marked “extra urgent,” meaning that noncompliant platforms could risk being shut down by authorities immediately.
Censorship has run rampant in China ever since President Xi Jinping announced he was considering removing presidential term limits in late February and the public voiced disapproval. Later this month, Parliament voted to lift the limits and now Xi can rule indefinitely. Any dissent on platforms like Weibo and WeChat have been erased and filtered out and a litany of terms related to Xi Jinping, a heavenly emperor’s rule, or even the word ‘No’ were all blocked online. China has even gone so far as to ban Winnie the Pooh after people began likening the Chinese leader’s appearance to the cartoon bear.