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From queer activist in China to adult film creator in Berlin

By: Amanda Sandström Beijer

Popo Fan understands the impact films can have, and to say the least he has also experienced it himself - from being censored by the government because of the theme of his movies to suing them and winning.

Popo Fan, queer activist and adult movie creator
Photo: Pan Jinxin

Popo is a queer film director, actor and writer who does everything from directing porn movies for Erika Lust, to documentaries about being queer in China and coming out in Chinese families.

He is also writing sci-fi porn scripts, and none of this started with a particularly big film interest. Neither with a feeling that ”movies will change the world”. Actually, he didn’t even have any particular interest in films. It pretty much started out with poor grades in math.

”I grew up in a small city on the countryside in China, with only six million people”, he explains and continues;

”I wanted to study literature, but I was terrible in math and in China you need good grades in math in order to study literature, of course” He says ironically. ”But since I spent most of my time during math classes sewing, I got really terrible grades.”

”My friend asked me why I didn’t apply for studying art instead since you don’t need math to be accepted in those universities, and so I found this film school that I applied for.”

During the interviews I pretended that I love movies and they believed me

Beijing Film Academy accepts 250 students a year, and out of 30 000 applicants after several tests and interviews, Popo was one of the lucky people who were accepted.

”During the interviews I pretended that I love movies and they believed me. But when I started out, I felt totally off since everybody in my class were very interested in films. Many of them knew that they wanted to create films already when they were born.”

Popo Fan eating ice cream
Photo: Martin Garbig

”I had a professor who was homophobic, and we used to fight all the time till I realized that he was old and helpless. I also had a friend in my class that was homophobic, but he was much younger and shapable. So, I started working on him. Since he was a movie fantast, I told him to watch all these LGBTQ movies. Of course, I didn’t tell him about the storyline, but more about that he must see the lightning in this movie, or the setting in that one because it was unbelievable, and so he did.”

I don’t believe that films can ’change the world’

After some time, the classmate started to shift perspective and became more accepting.

”It made me realize the power that films can have. I don’t believe that films can ’change the world’. But they add a new perspective, and it’s a great tool that can be used for LGBTQ rights.”

One of the first movies Popo created was a documentary called Chinese Closet, in 2009, which is about people coming out in their Chinese families.

”It was pretty hard finding families who wanted to appear in that movie, which makes sense. When it was released, even only undergroundly, in some small places, it got very strong reactions. Which made me want to create more on the same theme.”

He therefor created Mama Rainbow the first part in a documentary trilogy which follows mothers of gay and lesbian children throughout China, a film that was persecuted by the Chinese society and government.

”The authorities took down the film and a friend of mine who was a lawyer wondered if I wanted to file a lawsuit against the government, so I did.”

Every time you mention Berlin people go like ’Ah Berlin, did you have a wonderful time? Isn’t it a woooonderful city?’

Believe it or not, Popo actually won the case, which was a landmark event in fighting against state censorship in China. Although the film is still banned.

”Then they banned me from all film projects in Beijing, which made it meaningless to be a filmmaker there. But I found this opportunity to do research about a script in Berlin, and so I moved here.”

”I had already been traveling here sometimes before to various film- and art events and on vacation. It’s pretty weird. Every time you mention Berlin people go like ’Ah Berlin, did you have a wonderful time? Isn’t it a woooonderful city?’ Well, sure it’s a great city, but I didn’t see what was so special.”

Finally, here Popo was and although he doesn’t brag, he left some major marks with his work for LGBTQ rights in China. Besides organizing the Beijing Queer Film Festival for more than a decade, he’s the founder of Queer University Video Training Camp, received Prism Award from Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and won the best short film at CHOUFTOUHONNA. Popo also started shooting porn with some friends in Beijing that was shown at Porn Film Festival Berlin in 2017.

Popo Fan shooting Floss
Photo: Yuan Yuan

”When going on the festival I got to know some people from the porn community here, there among Erika Lust who I later on wrote a script for based on one of the XConfession, which means you can write your own fantasy and they’ll make it into a film.”

The story Popo wrote was about Sex between human and AI, in a kind of sci-fi atmosphere and was released on the XConfession.

”It was really great working with Erika Lust, they are doing porn mainly for women and have a feministic perspective and they really care about showing diversity within race and body types as well as gender. I learnt a lot from them, especially about women, desire and female bodies.”

Erika Lust have their own way of aesthetics and gives the creators and performers a lot of freedom within their work.

”I also have amazing line producers based in Berlin, Paulita and Sonja from Amard Bird, they are very well connected with the porn community here. I got such a great team” he says and continues;

Instead of the ideologies about what we can’t do and can’t say in real life, we should show it in porn. There’s a lot of potential in pornography

”Porn is important to our life now, especially during the pandemic when a lot of people were living in cities with a lock down and couples needed to be separated in different cities.”

”The future is porn, so instead of the ideologies about what we can’t do and can’t say in real life, we should show it in porn. There’s a lot of potential in pornography”

The joke’s on them, because now the whole evenings revolve around porn

When Popo told his friend that he started making porn they were all very happy about it.

”They were half joking, saying ’all your dirty mind has a place to go now’, and ’now you can finally stop crashing our dinner parties so that everybody ends up talking about sex’. But the joke’s on them, because now when people find out that I’m doing porn they’re so curious and the whole evenings revolve around porn.”

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