Just last month, Moonlight rocked the cinematic world when it upset favorite La La Land (in a very direct way) to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since, the film has seen a much wider release all across America — an incredible achievement in itself, as the movie depicts a gay love story between two black men. The film shattered several representational milestones as the first movie with an all-black cast to win Best Picture and the first Best Picture winner to center on LGBT themes. Unfortunately, that latter claim to fame may hinder the film’s prospects for international release.
China is notorious for its film censorship, especially when it comes to movies with gay protagonists. Since the country locked out Oscar nominees Carol and Brokeback Mountain, the screening prospects for Moonlight around the world aren’t looking good. Some believe there may be a change in the wind in China, though, after another film saw a well-received debut there earlier this month.
According to THR, Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast sailed into Chinese theatres on March 17 with no censorship, despite a much-discussed “gay moment” in the film. The remake features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interaction between two men, which allies and detractors alike have blown wildly out of proportion. Many are pleasantly surprised to see that China aired the film with those three seconds intact, and some think it could mean a promising future for Moonlight. China will also release Power Rangers, despite its similarly hesitant gay representation. Moonlight was set to stream via popular Chinese site iQiyi and premiere at the Beijing International Film Festival, before issues with censorship clearance put the film on hold.
The barely-there gay themes of Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers don’t exactly push against China’s censorship history so much as tap it, delicately, with one finger. Still, in a country that considers movies like Brokeback Mountain to be “pornographic,” any whiff of gayness is likely to cause a stir. Russia, for instance, may ban Beauty and the Beast. Distributors in the country had plenty of financial incentive to let Beauty and the Beast through, however — according to the same report from THR, a Beijing executive says that “money outweighed [Beauty and the Beast‘s] political sensitivities.” The Disney film has gone on to gross nearly $80 million in China.
As an independent release through A24, Moonlight hardly carries the same financial incentive, leading most to believe that the movie will not grace Chinese screens. Though the movie is an excellent example of artistic filmmaking and beautiful screenwriting, its same-sex love story will likely keep it out of one of the largest film markets in the world. We would hold out hope that the movie will at least make it onto Chinese streaming services, but the country is notorious for pulling gay content from those platforms as well.
A Chinese premiere for Moonlight would mean incredible things for Chinese LGBT citizens, so here’s hoping that Beauty and the Beast really has paved the way for the Oscar-winner. Given China’s track record, Moonlight fans may not want to hold their breath, but the film has pleasantly surprised many people already, so perhaps it could mark a positive change in old industry practices.