Last Tuesday, the winner of the prestigious South by South West Film Festival 2018 Grand Jury Award for documentary feature was screened in New York at an event co-hosted by China Film Insider and Jing Daily.
People’s Republic of Desire takes the viewer into the lucrative and exploitative world of YY.com, a NASDAQ-listed Chinese social media site focused on live video streaming.
As many luxury brands increasingly use livestreaming to attract fans and monetize that attention, they need to understand what’s driving the estimated $5-billion livestreaming juggernaut in China. Livestreamers can receive money from viewers — which has sent ordinary people on a quest to instant fame and fortune.
The film has gotten a wave of international attention as it races for the Oscar shortlist. The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Reckoning the cost of fame… a revealing examination of contemporary Chinese internet culture.” The film is also “provocative and unsettling as it brings us on a guided tour through the digital marketplace for something resembling human contact,” commented Variety.
The film focuses on two main characters, 21-year-old Shen Man and 24-year-old comedian Big Li. Both had relatively humble upbringings and backgrounds — Shen studied nursing, while Li started as a construction worker in Beijing. A few years after stepping into their livestreaming careers, their overnight-riches stories have become idolized by fans.
The livestreamers hold a similar value to luxury brands — creating a sense of aspiration fulfilled that is craved by the people living in smaller cities, where unemployment is high and wealth is lower than the average for China. For example, while livestreamer Shen earns $40,000 a month from live streaming, one of her viewers earns less than $300 a month.
The virtual world reflects the real world situation, where the class and wealth gap continues to widen in China. The rich are called tuhao — used to describe the nouveau riche, overnight rich, who are likely big-brand luxury shoppers — whereas diaosi — the poor — dream about the life that livestreamers have made for themselves.