In Hooligan Sparrow, director Nanfu Wang take great risks with her camera, and not just artistic ones. Her film focuses on a woman named Ye Haiyan, also known as “Sparrow”, an infamous women’s rights activist who is known for viral stunts and art projects that shine a light on the abuse of women in China. Specifically, Hooligan Sparrow details the treatment of Sparrow and a few other activists following a public protest in the Hainan Province.
They are protesting a local outrage that is the result of a nation-wide policy. A principal of a local school took six girls, age 13 and 14, to a hotel with a government official. In their defense, they claimed that the girls accepted money for the sex, making them under-age prostitutes. In China, a man convicted of raping a minor could receive life in prison or even the death penalty, but having sex with an underage prostitute leads to a much smaller penalty of 5-10 years. In a baffling loophole, it also results in a multi-year long sentence for the underage girls. That this “loophole” would be exploited by high-ranking government officials is practically a given. Some of the protesters even claim it is endemic, a kind of popular form of bribery.
Given the absurdity of this event, the paltry protests is only about a half-dozen strong, which speaks volumes about the true power of the State. After the protest, Sparrow and her compatriots are routinely harassed by thugs hired by the government, and the local police are more likely to arrest her for complaining that to protect her in any way. Hooligan Sparrow is a revelation of more than just backwards women’s rights policies, but the way that a totalitarian government spreads misinformation and fear through intimidation.