Entertainment

His Film Was Taken Down in China. Now He Makes Queer Erotica in Berlin.

Director Fan Popo shares how he breaks stereotypes about Asian sexuality and why he thinks “our future is porn.” 
Wang Xintian
Hangzhou, CN
April 28, 2021, 5:44am
Director Fan Popo on Asian sexuality, queer erotica and porn, and LGBTQ
Fan Popo. Photo: Pan Jinxin

In his home country China, Fan Popo is known as a “notorious” queer filmmaker. In Germany, where he now lives, he is just a “film director, Berlin-based,” according to his Instagram bio. 

“I don’t think I am that popular in Germany, but my landlord rented out her beautiful house to me without seeing me in person because she recognized me from an interview on [German public broadcaster] Deutsche Welle,” Fan said with a grin, in an interview with VICE. 

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Fan is best known for his 2015 legal case against the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China’s media regulator. When he found out that Mama Rainbow, his documentary about mothers of LGBTQ children in China, mysteriously disappeared from several Chinese streaming platforms, he decided to fight for his work and filed a lawsuit against the regulator.

The court ruling confirmed that the SAPPRFT did not ask the streaming sites to take down Fan’s film, which was seen as a victory by China’s LGBTQ community, although it remains unclear why his video was removed.

“I hope that my case can serve as catalyst to inspire more people to stand up against SAPPRFT for content we care about,” Fan told the Wall Street Journal at the time. 

However, this did not bring much positive change. Mama Rainbow is still only available on a few unofficial streaming platforms and Fan said that he was barred from attending a series of events in Beijing in 2016. Most of his work remains heavily censored on Chinese internet.  

“I had been producing LGBTQ documentaries for many years in China at that point, yet I barely saw a leap forward in society. If I continued doing activist filmmaking in the country, I would have been repeating myself, so I decided to leave,” Fan told VICE. 

Chinese Director Fan Popo Is Reclaiming Asian Sexuality Through Porn and Erotica

Fan Popo speaking at the Shanghai Pride Conference. Photo: Courtesy of Shanghai Pride

After moving from Beijing to Berlin in 2017, he broke away from documentaries and started exploring the world of adult films. His latest erotic film Hey, Siro features actors playing humanized AI smart devices having sex. It was a hit and was featured on the front page of artistic adult film site XConfessions. He just finished another project recently, a chronicle about men and masturbation. 

“I love producing porn as I can talk about issues that are not addressed enough in mainstream media. My friends are also happy for me as I can share my ‘dirty jokes’ in my films but not at the dinner table.”

“I love producing porn as I can talk about issues that are not addressed enough in mainstream media.”

Through porn and erotica, Fan wants to challenge the stereotypes of Asian sexuality.

Fan Popo (left) and Matthias Delvaux shooting film Floss.

Fan Popo and Matthias Delvaux on set for the film “Floss.” Photo: Yuan Yuan

“I feel more Asian than queer in Berlin,” Fan said with a contemplative look. “Being Asian in Germany feels like being queer in China. Both identities exist yet they are invisible in the environment.”

He said that he experienced a shift in identity after moving to Europe. 

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“I am Asian and I am queer, so I am always weighing up which identity is more important to me in a foreign country. In Berlin, being queer is not really a controversial identity, as the country is more open to the LGBTQ community. But being Asian in Europe bears significant headwinds,” Fan said. “I categorized myself as a member of the Asian community in Berlin when I realized that this group is neglected in mainstream discourse. I would naturally go with this identity and stand up for the group.”

For him, this kind of social categorization is just another form of stereotyping. 

“Society often thinks we queer people have a certain look — with addiction to body piercings and tattoos as well as bold hair colors — but it’s really not the case. The preconceptions made towards certain social minority groups are very biased. In an ideal world, we don’t need to categorize people with tags.” 

When Fan was invited to a queer film festival in the United States, he feared that he would not “look queer” enough to pass airport officials, so he painted his nails red. 

Chinese Director Fan Popo Is Reclaiming Asian Sexuality Through Porn and Erotica

Fan Popo’s poster for Berlinale Talents. Photo: Nadja Wehling

“This may sound satirical,” Fan said with a wry smile, “but sometimes minority groups themselves are trapped in the stereotypical standards that society imposes on them.” 

Fan’s ultimate goal is to direct erotica that can represent diverse Asian bodies, because Asian sexuality is often erased or mocked in the West.

“In Western media, Asian women have historically been exoticized and hypersexualized, but they are still depicted as submissive and passive; Asian males are often portrayed as asexual or devoid of sexuality,” said Fan.

“I think we should remain vigilant at all times when it comes to discourse saying ‘anything sexual is dangerous.’ Since Asian cultures are more conservative, I am hoping to produce more sex-positive films about Asians.”

Chinese Director Fan Popo Is Reclaiming Asian Sexuality Through Porn and Erotica

Fan Popo in Berlin. Photo: Marvin Girbig

Fan’s upcoming erotic film Wegen Hegel (Because of Hegel) is about a queer Asian man’s sexual journey amid the pandemic, going to a German man’s house to have “contactless sex.” The director laughed breathlessly at the idea of such unconventional sex but was confident that it is something viewers will enjoy.  

Trapped by flight restriction and a COVID-19 resurgence, Fan had to give up plans to travel back to China for new work opportunities. But he’s excited for what lies ahead. 

“I think our future is porn.” 

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