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Beijing festival pulls award-winning gay film amid content squeeze

Writer James Ivory poses in the press room with the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Call Me by Your Name," during the 90th Annual Academy Awards on March 4, 2018, in Hollywood, California.

[BEIJING] A Chinese film festival has pulled award-winging gay romance "Call Me By Your Name" from its programme, the movie's distributor said on Monday, reflecting China's mottled relationship with gay themes in the creative arts.

The movie, which won a screenplay Oscar this month, was withdrawn from the Beijing International Film Festival set for April, Sony Pictures Entertainment told Reuters, declining to comment on the reason.

Homosexuality is not illegal in China, but activists say conservative attitudes in some sections of society have led to occasional government clamp-downs.

In July last year, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) conference in the western city of Chengdu was called off after the venue cancelled the booking citing conflicting events. Lesbian dating app Rela was also shut down last May.

A blacklist of banned audio-visual online content last year also controversially included homosexuality, underlining a long-standing attitude in China towards same-sex relations despite often thriving gay scenes in major cities.

The pulling of "Call Me By Your Name" also comes as China tightens its grip on media content. Parliament this month voted to scrap term limits for President Xi Jinping and hand control over film, news and publishing to the Communist Party's publicity department.

The film follows the summer romance in Italy between a 17-year-old boy and an older student. It was pulled after the screening proposal submitted was not approved by regulators, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

In an initial screening list dated March 16, the organiser had listed "Call Me By Your Name" along with other foreign films like "Lean on Pete" and art parody "The Square".

The festival organiser declined to comment. Reuters couldn't reach China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

"This movie is in deviation from the policy environment in China," said Wu Jian, a Beijing-based film analyst, adding that it was "quite embarrassing for China" that it had been pulled.

China has long censored violence or sexual content in film releases, with a growing focus on socialist core values. Films with gay themes have met with a mixed reaction with some banned, though others have been given the go-ahead.

"There is no clear policy on this issue, so we are always confused," said Xin Ying, executive director of the Beijing LGBT Centre, adding that following the recent reshuffle of the media regulators it was getting even harder to get clear direction.