10 Jun 2008

Movie boycott called over Hong Kong actor's homophobic remarks

A Hong Kong actor who said in an interview that he would respond with physical violence should another man express any attraction or interest towards him has resulted in a call to boycott the movie he is currently promoting.

A campaign to boycott a 'gay' movie is underway following a radio interview with one of the movie's main cast members Leung Yu Chung who labelled gay men and lesbians as abnormal and perverts.

Top image: Leung Yu Chung (right) with City Without Baseball co-star Ron Heung; bottom: publicity poster
Leung, who is a real life member of the Hong Kong Baseball Team, was promoting his movie City Without Baseball which features a gay subplot on We are family, a weekly gay radio talk show in Cantonese, on Hong Kong's Radio 2.

In the programme that also included the film's director Danny Cheng aka Scud and actor Ron Heung that was aired on May 31, Leung further replied that he would respond with physical violence and foul language when asked by the programme's host Brian Leung (of no relation) what his reaction would be should another man express any attraction or interest towards him.

The show host asked immediately why a "I'm not gay" response would not suffice and turned the question around by asking if a woman who expressed her interest would be met with the same response.

When Leung responded saying that it's normal if it came from a woman, the show host asked if that meant that he thought gay men and lesbians to be abnormal. He replied saying that he does not like it but after some prodding, he conceded that it was what he thought.

The actor could not be reached for his comments.

A call to boycott the movie was made on Facebook last week. Xaiver Tam, a postgrad student in Hong Kong, started the Facebook group last week to raise the awareness of the actor's remarks.

He linked the actor's homophobic remarks to the murder of a 15-year-old gay student in California who was fatally shot after he professed his love to another boy in the school in early 2008.

"I understand we all enjoy freedom of speech. We also enjoy the freedom from gay bashing. The space of gay people is limited in the society. The establishment of the boycott group is the most peaceful means to raise awareness," he told Fridae in an email.

On Saturday, the glass door of the movie director Scud's office was smashed. It is not known if it is related to the controversy about the remarks made on air.

When contacted by Fridae about the campaign to boycott the movie, Scud, who returned from Australia to Hong Kong to make the film - which is his first - dismissed the reasons for the boycott asserting that his cast member was pressured by the host of the programme to answer his questions.

"Chung, our cast (member), was repeatedly asked how he would react if approached (harassment implied) by a gay, and I'm sure Brian knows what sort of answer would come from a guy straight and honest as him. If we knew that was a programme in which we had no freedom of speech, and could only speak to the ear of the interviewer, we wouldn't go (would you?)."

Explaining why he had brought up the hypothetical question on the show, Brian said: "That's what happened in the film's gay plot. Does that mean director Scud doesn't want to talk about his film? It's his plot."

Responding to the no freedom of speech charge, Brian said that the interview was aired in its entirety and "it's time they muster up their courage to face the criticisms and consequences of their own words."

Drawing attention to the director's equation of the words "approach" as "harassment," Brian warned that by assuming that every straight man will resort to violence as the actor said he would, he (the director) is in fact rationalising homophobic violence.

Several days after the interview was aired, he wrote in response to readers who commented on the issue on his blog, "I was as taken aback as all of you by what that so-called pitcher said to be that unapologetically anti-gay and sexist to the extent of endorsing violence, was beyond my belief!"

He added that "some men are just so insecure about their own masculinity, to prove otherwise, instead of being what a real man should entail, they target the weak, the disadvantaged and the marginalised. The more desperate they want to prove their manhood, the less of a man they reveal themselves."

"Sadly, that interview was just a tip of the big iceberg of homophobia and intolerance deep rooted in our society and culture. Don't be a silent catcher, time to pitch back!"

But how should the community pitch back?

Connie Chan, the co-founder of Women Coalition of HKSAR and a core member of Hong Kong's IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) committee, hopes for the LGBT community to speak up but stopped short of advocating a boycott.

"A boycott can be one of the options but I would also like to invite the actors involved and the director to have a dialogue with the community," Chan said appealing to the film's producers to organise an open forum and volunteered to facilitate the event.

Yau Ching, a cultural studies lecturer at Lingnan University - when contacted by Fridae - said she disagreed with the call to boycott the movie.

In a column for a local media magazine, the well-known lesbian filmmaker of Let's Love Hong Kong - said to be the first lesbian feature film made in the territory - wrote that homophobic speech does not equal a hate crime and to "exercise censorship to achieve an apparent state of harmony is a very easy approach to take, but history has never shown us an example of attaining civil rights equality through suppression of speech."

"He (Leung, the actor) has been so willing to… tell us his true feelings, and rightly expresses the emotions (as well as those misunderstanding, fear and anxiety) that are felt as well by countless other heterosexual young men in Hong Kong. If such emotions are suppressed indefinitely, what will become of it?"

She highlighted that in the United States, racial and homophobic hate speech which has been progressively driven underground may explain the recurrence of hate crimes such as the recent case in which a 15-year-old California student was shot.

"Many studies have shown that hate speech in itself does not lead directly to hate crime, but conversely, hate speech that has not been given adequate relief and discourse will just increase the likelihood and intensity of actual occurrence of hate crimes. If the campaign to boycott City Without Baseball succeeds, homophobic hate speech may actually be wiped out from Hong Kong society, but then, what do you think will happen at the end of the day?"

The radio talk show on May 31 can be heard on www.faitunes.com.

Hong Kong