When Disney debuted its “exclusively gay moment” in Beauty and the Beast, it captured the world’s attention, and the question soon became whether gay-unfriendly countries like Russia or Malaysia would show it.
But while the queer scene in Beauty lasts about two seconds—and the one in Power Rangers about ten—the real question is how high-profile movies with LGBT themes will fair around the world. Though hardly as big-budget as Disney’s latest live-action flick, Moonlight scored big at the Oscars.
Gay relationships are banned on Chinese television, but there are no rules explicitly prohibiting them in films or online. Still, censors appear squeamish: Brokeback Mountain was banned from in theaters in 2006, and the the underground Beijing Queer Film Festival is frequently subject to spying, police raids and arrests. (The first film featuring gay main characters, Wang Chao’s Seek McCartney, wasn’t approved until 2016.)
The Hollywood Reporter reports that streaming service iQiyi won the Chinese rights to Moonlight. But the acquisition was made without prior clearance from regulators, and plans to show the film this month at the Beijing International Film Festival are still unconfirmed.
“So many international films are ’a little bit gay’ these days,” says indie director Fan Popo (Mama Rainbow), “if the censors insisted on blocking all of it, one day soon there wouldn’t be any American films showing in China.”
A24, which produced Moonlight, is working on a deal to release the film theatrically in China, though a spokesperson said “there is no tangible update.”
Fan, whose LGBT documentary Mama Rainbow was pulled from Chinese streaming services in 2014, isn’t hopeful about its chances but says it would be “great news” for China’s LGBT community and filmgoers in general.
Whether that happens has less to do with values and more to do with money.
“Each of these decisions is a calculation,” a Beijing movie executive told THR. “Beauty and the Beast was a major studio title widely projected to be a hit… while the film’s gay content could easily be missed with a well-timed sneeze.”
With Beauty and the Beast, he says, ”money outweighed the political sensitivities.”