Breaking the LGBTQ stigma starting with gay conversion therapy in ‘Aqua Man’

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SINGAPORE – Creating content surrounding the LGBTQ community can be rather tricky because of censorship laws. Even so, it didn’t stop an up and coming filmmaker from making waves on his debut.

Jet Ho entered the industry with a bang with Aqua Man, a short film following the life of a young Singaporean boy who struggles with his sexuality and undergoes “gay conversion” therapy at the wishes of his family.

Ho took only a month to direct and produce the short film, including writing and casting. It was a simple and straightforward process until he wanted to release it to the public. So far, he’s been rejected more than 15 times by film festivals and streaming platforms.

During Ho’s interview with news media outlet Coconuts, he said although it didn’t take long to film the movie, it’s difficult to promote it.

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He added: “It basically was rejected everywhere from the start until I decided to just launch it on YouTube and give it some justice.”

The word “Aqua” in the film’s title refers to the Hokkien term for gay men, “Ah Kua” aka transvestite – a completely different concept from Jason Momoa’s Aquaman.

The main actor Josh Lim plays the character Jun Jie, who comes home to find that his mother had invited a pastor in hopes of “praying the gay out” of him or, in simpler terms, attempts conversion therapy.

Photo: Youtube screengrab (Aqua Man)

Ho isn’t Christian but he’s heard of conversion therapy.

Before filming began, he decided to deep dive into the topic and attended weekly sermons at churches. Not to mention he’s also interviewed pastors to make sure he portrays them as accurately as possible in the film.

“I don’t want to put any church or any organisation in bad light, I want to make the whole film look as authentic as it is. With the church, I was very thankful to come out with this concept,” he said and described how loving and understanding everyone was.

Coincidentally, there’s been debate on LGBT rights. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lop-sided response.

Aqua Man can’t be aired on TV as films starring gay characters invite censorship for “alternative sexuality” content – forcing such films to be rated 21 and up.

Normally, such restrictions are imposed on films containing nudity which made Ho feel uncomfortable. The director’s intention was to reach out to those who can relate to Aqua Man’s protagonist.

Ho described the situation as a societal problem that can start at a young age and said: “This has got nothing to do with explicit pornographic material, that perhaps needs a higher age rating.”

In the end, the director decided to premiere Aqua Man on YouTube because of the restrictions. Sadly, it hasn’t reached the (large) audience he had hoped for but he’s since received messages from many people sharing their personal experience.

“After the film was produced, it was very astonishing to find that many people actually reach out to say that this happened to them personally, so it became a true story that I wrote. Initially, I just dictated the story and something I think will be interesting to show but it became a true story, told by people who watch the film,” Ho said.

Despite the bumpy journey, Ho doesn’t plan to give up just yet. As he continues to push Aqua Man to reach its full potential, he’s also preparing a new script and promised to tackle stories on other social issues such as racism and abuse.

In the meantime, feel free to check out Aqua Man here:

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