Thu, Nov 29, 2018 - Page 13 News List

‘Gay Netflix’ heads abroad

Premiering last month, Taiwan-based LGBTQ movie platform GagaOOLala’s original ‘Queer Asia’ series explores homosexuality in Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

Reverend Crescencio Agbayani, founder of the LGBTS Christian Church, is shown in this scene from GagaOOLala’s Queer Philippines documentary miniseries.

Photo: PORTICO MEDIA

With more than 800 titles in its catalog, GagaOOLala appears to be thriving in its mission to become “gay Netflix,” just a month shy of its second birthday. However, founder Jay Lin (林志杰) says there’s another component of Netflix to emulate — expanding the platform’s original content beyond Taiwan.

“Netflix’s strategy includes finding suitable topics in other countries and empowering local directors to find and tell the stories,” Lin told the Taipei Times.

Last month, GagaOOLala launched its Queer Asia series, an extension of its Queer Taiwan mini-documentaries, which looks at marriage equality as well as other less-explored topics such as drag queens, sexual services for disabled people and same-sex couples raising children. The Hong Kong and Philippines editions are already available for free on GagaOOLala, with Japan and Vietnam coming next.

“We wanted to start with relatively LGBTQ-friendly countries,” Lin says. “We’re not going to go straight to [socially conservative countries] such as Brunei and Malaysia; that will cause us too much trouble.”

PROGRESSIVE SOFT POWER

With homosexuality still illegal in her country, Malaysian director Gan Li-ling (顏莉玲) can only dream of filming Queer Malaysia one day. She has to be discreet while screening her Queer Taiwan and Queer Hong Kong productions back home, mostly relying on invitations from LGBTQ-friendly schools, bookstores and coffee shops.

“I’m always surprised by the variety of people who attend these screenings,” Gan says. “One can only imagine how desperate people are to openly discuss LGBTQ issues in Malaysia.”

Lin says GagaOOLala generates much interest in these conservative countries because as an Internet-streaming-only OTT (over-the-top) media platform, it is free from local censorship laws. Lin says there have been no problems with local governments since GagaOOLala keeps its advertising lowkey and social media-oriented, and also consults with LGBTQ leaders in each target country.

Despite suffering a setback during Saturday’s elections, when voters passed three referendums by anti-marriage equality groups, Taiwan’s progressiveness in LGBTQ issues is an important source of soft power that can potentially influence neighboring countries, Lin says. In addition to the Grand Council of Justice’s ruling for same-sex marriage to become legal by May next year, Lin says the LGBTQ community has relatively high representation in local productions, whether it be a “very gay” movie or inclusion of LGBTQ characters in mainstream productions.

“In many countries, you can’t even have a homosexual minor character,” Lin says.

Through Queer Asia, Lin hopes that people can look beyond their own countries to learn from the different successes and struggles of LGBTQ communities elsewhere. For example, while the LGBTQ community in Hong Kong is less visible and same-sex marriage is still illegal, its Court of Final Appeal ruled in June that immigration authorities should recognize existing same-sex marriages and civil partnerships when it comes to foreigners applying for spousal visas.

BEYOND TAIWAN

After completing the Queer Taiwan series, Gan turned her focus to Hong Kong. Like the Taiwan series, Queer Hong Kong began with an overview episode covering a number of personalities, moving on to the late lesbian pop star Ellen Joyce Loo (盧凱彤) and LGBTQ foreigners, contrasting between Western white-collar workers and Southeast Asian migrant laborers.

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