Director: Nanfu Wang
Hooligan Sparrow, written, directed, and produced by Nanfu Wang, is a documentary making its Canadian premiere at the 2016 Hot Docs Film Festival. The documentary follows Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow), a prominent women’s and sex workers’ activist in China. Haiyan has worked tirelessly to shed light on the oppression faced by many women in China and the government’s refusal to create and enforce laws and regulations that would protect women and sex workers from abuse, violence, and other such injustices.
The events in the documentary were precipitated by a case involving an elementary school principal who was accused of taking four of his students, ages 11-14, to a hotel room where he and a government official raped and assaulted the young girls. There was video evidence of the girls being taken to the room but, according to the police, this was not enough evidence to charge the men with the crime. The case caught the attention of Haiyan and her fellow activists and they proceeded to demonstrate in front of the school. These protests led to Haiyan being labeled a disturber of peace and an enemy of the state. Haiyan is harassed by the police, uninformed citizens, and local government representatives, forcing her to abandon her home and go on the run. Nanfu Wang accompanies Haiyan and her daughter on their journey.
The documentary highlights and explores the suppression of free speech and violation of human rights that is prevalent in China. Hooligan Sparrow explores the sacrifices, dangers, courage, and resilience involved in activism as well as the suppressed political climate in China. Wang demonstrates the importance of documenting these injustices and uses many recording devices, in addition to a camera. The film’s essence is captured by one line in the documentary “When you are oppressed and defenseless, the only thing you can do is document the atrocities.” Hooligan Sparrow is film about passionate activism and will appeal to viewers who are interested in politics, world issues, women’s rights, and activism. The documentary is in Chinese with English subtitles. I give it 4 out 5 stars.