Vancouver Queer Film Fest: Mama Rainbow illuminates Chinese mothers of gay children

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      Mama Rainbow 

      A documentary by Fan Popo. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

      When Mama Zhao talks about her gay son, she wipes tears from her eyes and her voice becomes choked with emotion. She knows others won't understand if she told them her son is gay, and she feels isolated.

      Mama Zhao's pain represents what innumerable parents of gay and lesbian children in mainland China experience, where homosexuality still remains widely shunned, misunderstood, or not discussed. Nonetheless, according to research by sociologist Li Yinhe, China has over 50 million gay people. Fan Popo's illuminating documentary Mama Rainbow provides an engaging glimpse of how that mammoth iceberg has begun to surface.

      What might initially appear to set off upon a somber emotional trajectory turns to inspiration, hope, and even humour. The film profiles six progressive-minded, pioneering mothers who have not only accepted their gay children but have also found the strength to become gay advocates.

      Interestingly, Mama Zhao's sentiment that her primary concern is her child's happiness is echoed by the other mothers throughout the film. Time and time again, almost every one of them talks about how they wrestled with accepting their offspring's same-sex attractions until they considered what made their child most happy.

      In fact, the mother-daughter bonds remain so strong in some cases that Meiyi, for instance, establishes a close friendship with her daughter's girlfriend while Huanglin proudly relishes her daughter's taste in girls.

      Eventually, many of the mothers join PFLAG China (which was founded in 2008) and some even become activists. When her son Zhang Lingxuan was beaten up by bullies but had the blame placed on him, resulting in his dismissal from school, Mama Xuan took up the fight for gay rights. Meanwhile, Wu Mama, whose son had his coming out broadcast on TV, tours the country with talks and film presentations to educate others about homosexuality.

      Just as encouraging are the number of street interviews with young Chinese citizens who think homosexuality is okay.

      Ultimately, the documentary reveals how traditional Chinese bonds can adapt to social evolution while maintaining a strong connection to the most important familial values, including love and acceptance. As Sister Mei endearingly puts it, "God created these angels so there must be a purpose for these angels."

      Mama Rainbow screens at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival at Vancity Theatre on Monday (August 19) at 6 p.m. The screening will be followed by a discussion with PFLAG. 

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