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April 01, 2000 09:41am
Hong Kong Bans 'Chocolate' Poster
Source: News Wire

Hong Kong has no problem with showing the Canadian lesbian coming-out film Better Than Chocolate in theaters, but its Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority (TELA) has banned use of the poster for the film. The poster shows two women embracing, with the naked back of one visible including a portion of her derriere; in some versions, the film title is spelled out in chocolate on her back. Hong Kong activists charge that a double standard is at work, in a city where ads commonly feature near-nude photos of women and newspapers run reviews of brothels. On March 30 a group of gays and lesbians protested the ban outside the theater where the film is showing, and literally demonstrated -- by hug! gi! ng each other.

Spokesperson for the demonstrators was Anthony Yeung Ki-man of Gaystation, a Web site featuring a nightly audio Webcast. He noted that no "private parts" were visible in the Chocolate posters while many other approved posters for films in the same category were more revealing. He said TELA equates homosexuality with indecency.

First Distributors Hong Kong, which is handling Chocolate there, agreed with the gays and lesbians. A spokesperson said that the firm had offered to cover the buttocks on the poster with text but was told by TELA that the public wouldn't approve because it is a lesbian film.

In a statement, TELA insisted it had uniformly applied the Film Censorship Guidelines as prescribed by the Film Censorship Ordinance, which it said were designed to shield youngsters from materials "which are offensive to public morality, decency and ordinary good taste."

Hong Kong's Equal Opportunities Commission supported TELA, denying any discrimination in the case, while affirming the Commission's respect for gays and lesbians.

The romantic comedy by director Anne Wheeler was one of Canada's most successful films of 1999, with US$2.5-million in revenues. It's been nominated for a GLAAD Media Award by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD will hold the first of three awards ceremonies on April 2) and was voted #5 of the Top Ten Queer Films of the Year in an online poll by PlanetOut's PopcornQ (Oscar-heavy American Beauty was only #3). It premiered at the Berlinale in February 1999, and while it didn't win a prize, it did win a favorable review from Variety. Critics have been fairly unanimous that it's a feel-good film that wraps some serious message in a package of light comedy and genuine eroticism.! ! Its subplot regarding censorship problems with Canada Customs is rather timely since the Canadian Supreme Court this month heard the long-running lawsuit by Vancouver's Little Sisters Bookstore. The film is now available on video from TriMark. It's been running in Hong Kong for about two weeks.

While there's nothing in the poster to disturb Canadian standards, Chocolate did run into advertising problems in the U.S. -- not because of the graphic but because of the "L" word. The blurb in question read in full, "One of the best lesbian movies ever! Sexy! Funny! A total refreshing delight!" Oklahoma's Tulsa World newspaper ran an ad but omitted the word "lesbian," saying that by policy it never uses "lesbian," "gay" or even "straight." San Diego's Union-Tribune newspaper was ready to turn down the ad because of the "lesbian" reference, but under pressure from TriMark, GLAAD and others, changed its policy and ran it.

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