Amid the flurry of recent child sex abuse allegations that have shocked China, “Angels Wear White” — a film inspired by earlier, similar events — made a low-key debut on Friday, with only a smattering of screenings nationwide.
Set in an idyllic seaside town, the film dives into the systemic corruption plaguing a child sex abuse investigation. One disturbing scene depicts a middle-aged man checking into a hotel, accompanied by two girls in school uniforms. The hotel’s teenage receptionist later records a video of the man entering the girls’ room.
Written and directed by Vivian Qu, “Angels Wear White” was screened for competition at the 74th Venice International Film Festival in September, and on Saturday, Qu won Best Director at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. “I think it’s precisely because of the current situation that this film is more meaningful now,” Qu said in an interview with Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper.
Yet despite its accolades, “Angels Wear White” accounted for just 1.5 percent of all screenings nationwide on the day of its debut, though this figure has since risen to 5.2 percent, according to data from Maoyan, a movie ticketing and review website. In a wide show of support, many entertainment industry bloggers gave the film positive reviews and recommended it to their readers.
“I don’t have children,” popular entertainment commentator Luo Beibei wrote Friday on messaging app WeChat, “but I know those news stories are definitely not irrelevant to me.”
Independent screening clubs and online platforms have also taken up the film’s cause. Daxiang Dianying, a startup dedicated to organizing screenings for arthouse and documentary films, issued a call encouraging its users to consider showing the film. Xiao Fuqiu, the company’s media manager, told Sixth Tone that as of Monday afternoon, over 500 people from 120 cities across China had applied to organize screenings for their communities.
Li Wei, a 40-year-old father from Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi province in eastern China, was one of the individuals who organized a screening of “Angels Wear White.” He told Sixth Tone that the number of screenings allocated in Nanchang was less than ideal, given the amount of critical acclaim the film has received.
“First of all, this is a great domestic film,” Li said, explaining why he chose to host a screening. “Second — and a very important reason — is that child abuse cases in kindergartens make people very anxious.” Li hopes his efforts will spread awareness and help protect children from harm in the future.
Qu’s fictional film was preceded by a series of very real events. In May 2013, six primary school-age girls on the island province of Hainan were repeatedly taken to hotel rooms by their principal, where he and a government official would molest them. Two months later, in July, a schoolteacher in his 60s was arrested for sexually assaulting at least seven students under the age of 10 in the eastern province of Jiangxi. According to an interview with The Beijing News, Qu began writing the script for her film the following year.
Two promotional posters for the film bear the slogans “Break the silence” and “Save the children.” But rather than dwelling on the sordid details of horrific crimes, Qu has focused on giving more attention to the victims’ lives following the trauma they endured.
“I don’t want to show you how pitiful the kids are and make everyone shed tears,” Qu told The Paper. “Instead, I hope people can think more calmly about this issue and the failure of our entire society to function as a protective system.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A promotional image for the film ‘Angels Wear White.’ IC)