India Today - - LEISURE - —Ananth Kr­ish­nan

Break the si­lence” was the name of the cam­paign launched in China last year to pro­mote the film An­gels Wear White, which tells the pow­er­ful story, based on true events, of a cover-up af­ter a pow­er­ful Chi­nese po­lice com­mis­sioner rapes two school­girls.

The tim­ing was eerie. Barely a month later, the #MeToo move­ment, and the al­le­ga­tions against pow­er­ful Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein, would spark a huge de­bate about sex­ual as­sault around the world.

That was what Chi­nese di­rec­tor Vi­vian Qu hoped to do with her film in China. In­stead, at­tempts to ex­pose the sex­ual ha­rass­ment that’s rife ev­ery­where, from uni­ver­si­ties to the film busi­ness, were greeted by a deaf­en­ing si­lence—and a state me­dia black­out.

China’s au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment is so wary of any kind of ac­tivism that it locked up five young women’s rights lawyers in 2015. But there’s also a per­va­sive cul­ture of si­lence over sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault.

“In China, when there’s a mur­der case, ev­ery­one talks about it and de­mands jus­tice, but when it comes to rape, no one does,” says Qu. “I have no an­swer as to why there is si­lence, but what I want to do is pose the ques­tion.” She does that pow­er­fully in An­gels Wear White, which won Qu the ‘Sil­ver Pea­cock’ award for best di­rec­tor at the In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val of In­dia in Goa in Novem­ber last year.

An­gels Wear White tells the story of two school­girls and the af­ter­math of a sex­ual as­sault in a ho­tel room by a po­lice of­fi­cial. It ex­plores the role of by­standers—at the cen­tre

of the story is a girl re­cep­tion­ist who is re­luc­tant to re­port the case—and the par­ents’ fight for jus­tice.

Qu couldn’t travel to In­dia be­cause the film was si­mul­ta­ne­ously play­ing at no less than six fes­ti­vals, from Venice to Ja­pan and Tai­wan. But she says that’s a “huge re­gret”, given that it was her love for the po­ems of Rabindranath Tagore that brought her to the arts: “I fell in love with Tagore when I first read his po­etry on a spring af­ter­noon in univer­sity.” So nat­u­rally, she was drawn to the films of Satya­jit Ray as a stu­dent in New York.

This is a #MeToo with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics. The Com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion shat­tered feu­dal norms and promised equal­ity for women, as well as the masses. In the three decades since China’s open­ing up, Qu’s film sug­gests, the old ideas about women have re­turned as in­di­vid­ual free­doms have ex­panded.

“When I was grow­ing up, we were taught girls were equal to boys, women hold up half the sky, and the fo­cus was on get­ting knowl­edge,” says Qu. “In to­day’s so­ci­ety, the fo­cus seems to have changed a lit­tle bit and in some ways it’s sim­i­lar to a 100 years ago, where all you need to care about is to find a good hus­band or marry into a good fam­ily.”

That’s just one of the ways the film will res­onate with In­di­ans.

An­gels Wear White

Chi­nese di­rec­tor Vi­vian Qu (left); and a still from her film

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