China film festival pulls gay film ‘Call Me By Your Name’ from programme
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China film festival pulls gay film ‘Call Me By Your Name’ from programme

DESPITE international praise and an Oscar under its belt, award-winning gay romance movie “Call Me By Your Name” has been pulled from the line up of China’s biggest film festival, the movie’s distributor said on Monday.

The reasons behind the Beijing International Film Festival withdrawing the movie from their programme is unknown, but the move reflects the uncomfortable relationship China has with gay themes in the creative arts.

While homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997, activists say conservative attitudes in some sections of society have led to occasional government clamp-downs.

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In November, a Human Rights Watch (HRW)  report detailed the brutal treatment of LGBT people coerced into conversion therapy due to social or family pressure. First-hand accounts said incidents of electric shock therapy, verbal abuse, and drugging were commonplace “treatments” used to change a person’s sexuality.

Last year, police in the northwestern city of Xian briefly detained nine gay activists after they tried to organise a conference, saying the city did not welcome gay people.

A blacklist of banned audiovisual online content last year also controversially included homosexuality, underlining a long-standing attitude in China towards same-sex relations despite often thriving gay scenes in major cities.

“Call me by your name” follows the summer romance in Italy between a 17-year-old boy and an older student. It was pulled after the screening proposal submitted was not approved by regulators, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

“This movie is in deviation from the policy environment in China,” said Wu Jian, a Beijing-based film analyst, adding that it was “quite embarrassing for China” that it had been pulled.

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China has long censored violence or sexual content in film releases, with a growing focus on socialist core values. Films with gay themes have met with a mixed reaction with some banned, though others have been given the go-ahead.

“There is no clear policy on this issue, so we are always confused,” said Xin Ying, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, adding that following the recent reshuffle of the media regulators it was getting even harder to get clear direction.

The pulling of the film comes as China tightens its grip on media content. Parliament this month voted to scrap term limits for President Xi Jinping and hand control over film, news and publishing to the Communist Party’s publicity department.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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