New Documentary Uncovers The Open Secret of China's LGBT Community: Sham Marriages

Still from Sophia Luvarà's documentary, 'Inside the Chinese Closet.'

Directed by Italian filmmaker Sophia Luvarà, Inside the Chinese Closet is a documentary that examines the rising phenomenon of fake straight marriages between LGBT men and women in China.

In the film, a gay man named Andy and a lesbian named Cherry are each on a quest to find, not love, but their 'other half' for a sham marriage. In China, such unions between gay men and lesbian women are often called xinghun, which means cooperative marriage. It's the only way for Chinese LGBT men and women to fulfil their filial duty of continuing the family's name, as well as to evade the social stigmas of being gay or being 'left on the shelf.'

In the film, the protagonists also attended a 'wedding fair' where gay men and women come together to 'speed date' and to openly negotiate their terms for marriage e.g. freedom to have their own same-sex partner, possibility of living separately, whether to have baby through IVF, so on and so forth.

Based in Shanghai, the project had taken Luvarà two years worth of research and a great deal of effort finding the right persons to star in the film. Luvarà remarked that even in a big and highly populated city like Shanghai, there are very few men and women who are openly gay.

In China, it's estimated that there are around 20 million men are either gay or bisexual, and 80 percent of them have married a straight woman.

Even though homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997, and in 2001, it was declassified as a mental illness, being gay still carries significant stigma in the mostly conservative Chinese society. In certain parts, there are clinics that offer conversion therapies. Portrayals of same-sex relationships are also widely prohibited in the mainstream and online media.

With Inside the Chinese Closet, Luvarà and her team hope to reach out to Chinese LGBTs and their families, and to raise awareness about homosexuality in the rural areas as well.

The documentary is currently showing at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London, 9-18 March. Check out the trailer here: