When thinking about Vietnam, people seldom thinks of a boomng LGBT communtiy. However, this is not the case in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where many gay-related events have been going on for years. The original docuseries Queer Asia produced by GagaOOLala, the largest LGBT streaming platform in Asia, has traced the lives of the queer people in Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan, and Vietnam. For the first and the second episodes in Vietnam, we have invited director Nông Nhật Quang, a young brilliant newcommer to the industry, to shoot them with his one-and-only stylish techniques. In the first episode of Our Queer History, he asks a question rather thought-provoking: what is the local queer culture in Vietnam? While, in the second episode, he films the daily life of the unapologetically hot drag queen Dan Ni. After recording the gay lives of Vietnam, we invited director Nông Nhật Quang to talk about his beliefs and how they relate to his films.
Director Nông Nhật Quang
Q: When did you find out that you were gay? How did you feel about it living in Vietnam?
A: I remember being turned on by one of those headless torsos in male underwear boxes when I was a 4-year-old. Little did I know that nearly 20 years later I'd make a documentary about it.
Growing up, I was paranoid, but in hindsight my closeted years were not that bad. Other than getting picked on at school, I have never really faced any overt homophobia in my daily life in Hanoi. So I guess our apathetic nature helps.
Director Nông Nhật Quang
Q: What inspired you to become a documentarian? Do you hope to promote LGBT equal rights in Vietnam through your works? How?
I started making silly videos in high school, and it transformed me from a bullied kid to a popular one. New found social life is fun, but what's more important is the realization of the fact that watching films is pretty much a form of voluntary brainwash where viewers sit on a chair and stare at the screen to consume a manipulating experience. Done properly then this perception-changing power can drive great impact. Therefore, I decided to take a more serious approach to the medium by making documentaries about things personally important. It was my next move then.
When I was 19, I moved to a bigger city and was exposed to more gay cultures when I started with documentaries. Identification was what I wanted to know the most. My three documentaries: Search, Our Queer History and Dating with Dan Ni were made out of this need, and they somewhat reflected how I grew from tip-toeing into my community to finding my place among them, and coming up with my own definition of what it means to be a gay Vietnamese.
Understanding is needed in the quest for equality, and I hope the documentaries help generating more of that.
Dating With Dan Ni trailer:
Q: Search ends up with an interviewee criticizing western gay culture invading Vietnam gay community. Would you like to share with us some native Vietnamese gay culture?
I would say the so-called "cultural invasion" is more of an influence due to the lack of the education of the native cultures. If one wants to know more about the issue, check out Queer History Month.
They [members of Queer History Month] bring queer stories to the public with in-depth posts regarding, for example, transvestite singers selling lottery while traveling across the countryside, wartime bromance, MTF (male-to-female) scholars, high profile intersex generals, eunuchs, and an alleged homosexual emperor.
Q: In the first episode of Queer Asia - Vietnam, you started by asking if there’s any local Vietnamese gay culture but ended up with drag queen events, which originate from the western society. Why did you follow this path?
That question originated from Search, where I became aware of how "the current way of being gay" is not exactly local. Half way through the film, after talking with the Queer History Month team and learning about their work, it became clear to me that both native and foreign cultures aren't necessarily better or worse than one another, but in fact help and enhance each other. With that in mind, drag events--the backbone of many LGBTQ movements--serve as an indication of the future in our cultural flow.
Queer Asia - Vietnam
Q: According to the narrative in Queer Asia - Vietnam, drag queen shows are a popular event in Vietnam. What are the other popular gay events in Vietnam?
Our annual Pride month is held in many provinces, with the biggest two in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. In Hanoi, throughout the year there are events organized catering different aspects of the community, such as workshops by “6+” for mental health, screenings by Cinemathequeer, the Hanoi International Queer Film project, and the community events by Hanoi Queer.
Q: What are the obstacles commonly faced by the Vietnam gay community in the path towards equality?
(The government and censorship but I'm dead if I say so) We luckily don't have a discriminative education system against homosexuality, so the obstacles mainly come from the lack of awareness. While younger generations have more knowledge about LGBTQ , bridging the gap with older ones is essential for equal rights
Q: You spent a lot of time with Dan Ni, how do you feel about him?
Pretty much a mix of what viewers will feel about him. But personally his stereotype-breaking attitude also freed me from my own thinking.
Queer Asia - Vietnam
Q: What's your expectation for the audience of Queer Asia - Vietnam?
I hope that the glimpse into queer lives demonstrates that there's more to being queer than one's sexuality, and that we have a diverse culture and we're doing well. Also, I hope that helps the kids growing up questioning their identities.
Q: What’s your impression when it comes to Taiwanese gay cultures?
(I mean protests don't happen here so I'm jealous but we can't talk about that)
After watching Queer Taiwan and participating in the production of Queer Asia, I've been inspired by the movement and measures taken by activists to fight for a better understanding. I'd love to know more!