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Interview: Whistleblower/Filmmaker Nanfu Wang Discusses the Impact of ‘Hooligan Sparrow’

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Hooligan Sparrow, Nanfu Wang, Ye Haiyan

Ye Haiyan, maverick activist in ‘Hooligan Sparrow.’ (photo courtesy of Nanfu Wang)

Hooligan Sparrow is a riveting, award-winning documentary about Ye Haiyan, renowned in China for her maverick daring as an activist nicknamed Hooligan Sparrow. (see my review of the film on Blogcritics) Ye Haiyan has put her life on the line, braved eviction, harassment, and death to publicize notorious abuses of women in China. The film focuses on her activity to reform a law which in effect gave a lesser punishment for the rape of young girls if they received money for their sexual favors and were viewed as prostitutes.
Director Nanfu Wang chronicles Sparrow and other activists as they protest in front of the school which was a crime scene: six young girls were taken to a hotel overnight by the school principal and officials and raped. The principal and officials were not being held accountable until Ye Haiyan and others became involved.
The documentary filmed at great risk to its director Nanfu Wang had to be smuggled out of China. Nanfu Wang, too, was stalked and hounded by gangs hired to silence Sparrow and the other activists. She and the other activists are forced to hide. The film is a first-of-its-kind in revealing the visceral, on the ground suspense as Nanfu Wang and others escape from thugs who would capture Nanfu Wang and confiscate the film  so that the truth will never see the light of day.
Ye Haiyan, Hooligan Sparrow, Nanfu Wang

Director of ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ Nanfu Wang in the Brooklyn Museum filming the installation representing Ye Haiyan’s (Hooligan Sparrow) eviction and harassment across China. (photo by Nanfu Wang)

In my interview with Nanfu Wang via email, we discuss the impact of Hooligan Sparrow which has already garnered numerous awards.
What do you see is the importance of your film in light of the recent developments of Donald Trump, U.S. presidential candidate’s abusive behavior toward women and his uplifting abuse of women as a right and privilege of celebrity?
Threats to women’s rights are timeless and universal. In every culture throughout history, men have used status and power to take advantage of women. A society that chooses leaders who don’t respect women is not a truly free society.
Is Ye Haiyan a global heroine for all women? Should she be a spokesperson for the UN?
Ye Haiyan was invited to the UN in 2012. I think her experiences and stories would be very important for people to understand contemporary China. But unfortunately in November 2014, Ye’s passport was confiscated by the Chinese government, and she has been prohibited from travelling since then.
Has your film been shown in China, yet, or is it banned?
It has not been officially shown in Mainland China, but it was shown multiple times in Taiwan and Hong Kong where audiences responded very strongly.  There’s not much chance that the film will ever be shown officially in China any time soon. But we’re hoping to make it available for people to see.
Is Ye Haiyan safe, now? Do you think she should apply for asylum in the US or another nation? Why or why not?
Ye Haiyan is safe. But she is restricted from doing activism, and she has been prohibited from travelling. Many people suggested that Ye Haiyan should consider political asylum, but she didn’t want to leave China. She found her life and work inextricably connected to China. If she left China, even though it might be physically safe for her, but she would feel her life would be less meaningful.
What is currently going on in the case of the lawyer who was imprisoned. I heard she has been released, under what conditions?
Wang Yu was arrested in July 2015 and was officially charged with state subversion in February 2016. In August 2016, it was reported that Wang Yu was released on bail, but her family and lawyers were not informed of her release and no one was able to contact her. Her release was dependent upon a taped confession in which the lawyer says that she was forced by “foreign forces” to speak out against the Chinese government.
Are you safe? Can you go back to China or are you on a watch list and will you be harassed if you return?
At this point, it’s still unknown if I would be able to go back to China or not.
Ba Diucao, Hooligan Sparrow, Nanfu Wang

Cartoon art representation of ‘Hooligan Sparrow.’ Artist Ba Diucao. (courtesy Nanfu Wang)

Has the response to your film been surprising? Why or why not? What difference do you see in the reaction from US and international audiences? 
What surprised me was that no matter in which country the film was shown, people from all over the world responded in similar ways. Many people expressed shock and outrage. Also, many people felt that to varying degrees the abuses depicted in the film – unlawful detentions, media censorship, women’s rights abuses – also were taking place in their own countries.
Do you plan to continue as a filmmaker/whistleblower after your success with Hooligan Sparrow?
I’ll continue to be a filmmaker. I’m currently working on a project that’s based in the U.S., though it’s not about the same kind of social issues as Hooligan Sparrow. It’s possible that future films will address similar issues, though.
Have there been reforms about the law allowing men to claim young girls they rape as prostitutes? Will there be?
Yes. The law was repealed in August 2014.
Hooligan Sparrow which aired on POV PBS series on Monday, October 17 will receive the Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award from International Documentary Association at the 2016 IDA Awards in Los Angeles in December. It was also nominated for Best First Documentary Feature by the Critics Choice Documentary Awards 2016. The activists presented in the film including Hooligan Sparrow and Nanfu Wang are inspirations to both men and women who fight to overthrow acts of corruption which oppress and repress all who would hope to live in a free society.

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About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, novelist and poet. She authors three blogs: The Fat and the Skinny, All Along the NYC Skyline, A Christian Apologists' Sonnets. She contributed articles for Technorati on various trending topics. She guest writes for other blogs. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely.