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BBC – Culture – The taboo-busting women of Chinese film

Many have changed over the last 18 years, according to film director Louisa Wei. In 2001, she realized that the female pioneers in Chinese cinema were repeatedly missed from the history book, and took themselves to write about the story. "There were very few things on women's directors. I knew they existed, but when you come to study and read about them, they were not really there," she says.

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In 2009, Wei published a book with interviews with 27 Chinese and Japanese women directors, as well as several academic journals on Chinese women in film, documenting the work of women directors as Tazuko Sakane, born in 1[ads1]904 in Japan, who wrote in 1936: "I will portray the true figure of women who look from the woman's kingdom." She also wrote about Chen Bo's, the actor and perhaps the only Chinese woman who works as a producer director in the 1940s; Tanaka Kinuyo, who made his direct debut in 1953; as well as Dong Kena and Wang Shaoyan, both of whom were good in the 1960s and 1970s. "[I had] to rewrite the whole film history, "she says.

That was just one major problem: the audience was not interested in Weis research. "The book basically had no influence, no one read that kind of book yet," she tells BBC Culture.

Despite a slow initial recording, it turned out that her efforts were not in vain. As he taught film classes as a lecturer at City University in Hong Kong, Wei began to notice more and more female students in the audience each year, and they wanted to know about the women who had come before them. Young female filmmakers began to read and share her work.

Momentum gathered more, and Wei was invited to speak to the public about her research. "Last year [gave] a talk, there were 300 people in the hall, it was filled up, and the title was" Chinese Women's Director since 1916 ". You can hardly imagine it!" She says, laughs and shakes her head in disbelief .

They discovered that Eng had traveled the world and explored taboo topics

Film experts began using Weis's work to update their knowledge of the history of film globally. One of her most prominent directors is a documentary called Golden Gate Girls, which celebrates Esther Eng's work, China's first female film director, prominent in the 1930s and 1940s in both China and Hollywood. "I showed [Golden Gate Girls] in Paris in December [2018] a filmmaker who covered this whole life came after me and said he was so affected to see it – he didn't know about her," she says.

Eng was not only missed out of the history of the West. At the beginning of her research, Wei says: "I looked through Hong Kong's film archive and came across Esther Eng's name, she [was named] the national corner of 1937 – I found an article that said this. But this was the only thing I could find!" Many years with workers with scientists, historians and journalists uncovering their extraordinary career for the documentary. At one point, even hundreds of photographs of Eng's life had to be saved from a San Francisco trash can. Together, they discovered that Eng had traveled the world and explored taboo subjects at a time when many women had no jobs at all, nine films in the United States and Hong Kong, including National Heroine, ruled a film about a female pilot fighting for her country.

Fast forward to today, and Wei shows pride in the edition of Life Magazine in March 2019, with a huge spread of Wei and her work celebrating Esther Eng. This is especially exciting for Wei, not only because the work of female filmmakers is finally covered, but because the magazine is Chinese, and information is hugely censored in the country, which makes sharing Eng's story particularly challenging.

& # 39; Me Too & # 39; really got people focused … The women's problems circulate on WeChat – Louisa Wei

It seems to have been an important shift in thinking according to Wei. March 8, 2019 – International Women's Day – Articles circulated around China's largest social network WeChat titled "Chinese Cinema is Only Complete with These 100 Women Directors", "60 Independent Female Directors in China" (where Wei is featured) 100 largest movies in history of women. "This is a new phenomenon:" This is unheard of! [International Women’s Day] tend to thank women for doing the job at home, but nothing like this, celebrating women's directors, Wei said.

All these events – the WeChat talks, the growing number of female students in the film school, the media interest in Esther Eng – signal a clear trend, an appetite for more information about women in film and a growing acceptance of women as filmmakers.


What drives the world suddenly interested in Chinese female film-making talent? Wei believes that part of the answer lies in feminist measures that have swept the world in recent years as #MeToo. "#MeToo got people focused … now if I say" I'm a feminist ", people have a better understanding [of what that means]. The women's problems circulate at WeChat, she says.

Throughout China, an increasing number of film festivals contribute to An example of this is the China Women Film Festival, a bi-annual event in Beijing and Hong Kong, launched in 2013. The aim is to highlight the work of female filmmakers over Worldwide and sparking discussion in China and Hong Kong on women's rights 2019 The Hong Kong edition was held in March, and presented films including Ava, a film by Iranian-Canadian filmmaker Sadaf Foroughi about a girl age in Iran, and #FemalePleasure, a documentary about five women in patriarchal societies who break their silence

It's always been Batman, Superman: man, man, man – Nicola Fan

Festivals like this are especially exciting for young filmmakers like Nicola Fan. Art theaters are mainly non-existent in Hong Kong, and without festival it is difficult to access this kind of content. Speaking of China's female film festival in Hong Kong in March, she says, "[The] China Women's Film Festival is interesting because it brings rich [female-made] documentaries to Hong Kong and China, showing audiences to movies like Ava. something quite unusual – you don't see that kind of movie at the box office. Hong Kong is drawn to the big Avengers or superhero movies. I didn't want to know [films like Ava] without the festival. "

Nevertheless, despite the Significant progress made by women filmmakers in China and Hong Kong remains major challenges. Technology may have made movies cheaper and easier, but without art theaters or much public funding, it is still difficult for new filmmakers to make a name for themselves. Young filmmaker Sharon Yeung says, "Now many of us are waving cameras and shooting something, but it surprises me how little [we] earns … Newer struggles. Movies come from veterans still. Marvel, superhero, big budget – that's what people advocates. "

Movies are a good way to make social problems common – Li Dan

And the # MeToo movement can raise awareness, but it still has a long way to go in China and Hong Kong. One of the first victims to speak out after #MeToo went viral, 23-year-old athlete Vera Lui, was pilloried by the public and the media in 2018 to reveal the sexual assault she suffered from her former trainer. Many women have been frightened back in silence.

Li Dan, founder of the China Women Film Festival, believes filming is a crucial way to reach Chinese and encourage public debate on such issues. "[In China] We cannot disseminate information through ordinary media or large new media, all of which are controlled or censored by the government," he says. "But movie … is a good way to [make] social issues mainstream."

Despite the challenges posed, the fan thinks it is an exciting time for women in film, referring to the rise of large blockbusters with female leaders and directed by female filmmakers: "It has always been Batman, Superman: "Man, man, man. It is encouraging to see films such as Wonder Woman coming from Hollywood, it helps audiences request a wider variety of stories," she says.

In fact, three of the top 10 best-selling movies of China in China were directed by women And women change things. Director Angie Chen has personally challenged stigmatization against women on the movies she leads. "When I started working [in film] women in production were told they were not allowed to sit on a camera case because they would bring bad luck for the movie. When I [directed] my first movie I would deliberately sit on the issues. No one dared to say anything – I was the director! "Chen said.

When it comes to the future, the only thing that is not drastic change is the dreams of young filmmakers in China and Hong Kong today, echoing the women in the 1930s. As Japanese director Tazuko Sakane in 1936, Sharon Yeung will also use her views on the world to make films: "I'd like to make films about the female experience," she says. "It's so exciting that there are more and more movies about it, and I can't wait to do more, especially from an Eastern perspective. It's just so unexplored, we've seen movies made by men all these years, and we is discovering all these new perspectives. "

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