Chinese Documentary ‘Hooligan Sparrow’ Makes Oscar Shortlist

Feature-length film sheds light on rape case of six primary school-age children.


Hooligan Sparrow has been included on the shortlist of 15 titles for Best Documentary Feature at next year’s Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday. The 84-minute documentary recorded the protests against child sexual abuse at a primary school in China’s southern island province of Hainan.

Since the documentary’s premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the film has earned its young director Wang Nanfu various honors and awards. But it has not been shown in Chinese cinemas, nor can it be viewed online on Chinese mainland video sites, though it is widely available in other parts of the world on streaming site Netflix.

The documentary follows controversial feminist activist Ye Haiyan, who calls herself “Hooligan Sparrow,” as she and fellow activists launch protests against a school principal and a local government official who took six primary school-age girls to hotels and raped them. A picture of Ye holding a banner saying “Principal, get a room with me and leave the kids alone” went viral online after one protest in 2013.

Ye had previously become known for her work advocating for sex workers’ rights and legalized prostitution.

The rape case triggered a discussion about how Chinese law treats the sexual abuse of young girls. Before a change in the law in August 2015, a legal loophole allowed rapists of girls under the age of 14 to be convicted of the lesser crime of soliciting an underage prostitute. This meant the accused would get a maximum sentence of 15 years instead of the death penalty — and, implicitly, that the victim would be branded a prostitute.

In June 2013, the principal and the official were convicted of rape and received 13.5 and 11.5 years in jail, respectively.

Ye, who currently lives in Beijing, said she was happy that Wang’s movie is getting recognition abroad, although she feels that the heart of the film is ultimately a domestic problem. “I don’t pay much attention to the response overseas,” she said. “I think the problem reflected in the film is our own problem, one between civil society and government. We can only deal with it and solve it on our own.”

— This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.