Asia’s ‘gay Netflix’ to woo Indian audiences in 2019

February 14, 2019 - 8:00 AM
Members of the LGBT community take part in a Kissathon to demand equal rights for LGBT on the sidelines of Pope Francis' visit to Panama City
Members of the LGBT community take part in a Kissathon to demand equal rights for LGBT on the sidelines of Pope Francis' visit to Panama City, Panama January 25, 2019. (Reuters/Henry Romero)

KUALA LUMPUR — Asia‘s first LGBT+ video streaming platform that bills itself as the continent’s “gay Netflix” plans to expand this year into India, its founder said on Wednesday, following the 1.3 billion-strong country’s legalization of gay sex.

GagaOOLala — which combines two slang phrases used to describe gay people in Taiwan — is moving into India because of improved internet and payment technologies, said Jay Lin, head of Taipei-based Portico Media, which set up the service in 2017.

“It’s a perfect time,” Lin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that GagaOOLala is currently available in 13 countries across Southeast Asia, including Taiwan and Hong Kong.

“It’s a very exciting territory for us … In India, we are hoping to not just stream our service but also find local producers and directors that we can collaborate with.”

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across most of Asia, and deep-rooted biases have hamstrung progress on gay rights.

Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei outlaw sexual relations between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people.

However, India moved to scrap Section 377 outlawing same-sex relations last year and Bollywood’s first mainstream LGBT+ film was released earlier this month.

Available via its website or mobile apps, GagaOOLala provides unlimited access to its LGBT+ films, TV series and documentaries for about $6 a month and has yet to encounter any regulatory restrictions, Lin said.

Advances in internet access and speeds, mobile phone and payment technologies will help GagaOOLala target new viewers in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, he added.

With 150,000 registrations to the free section of the site, GagaOOLala is also looking at allowing its members to pay for individual content rather than a monthly subscription to help Asian LGBT+ productions gain a wider audience.

At the same time, original LGBT+ productions will be ramped up this year, Lin said, working with filmmakers across Asia and then screening the content on GagaOOLala.

Marriage equality

Lin, a prominent gay activist in the self-ruled island, first had the idea for an LGBT+ streaming service while setting up the annual Taiwan International Queer Film Festival in 2014.

Looking to promote positive gay and transgender stories and to help other festivals to show Asian LGBT+ films, the idea for GagaOOLala was born.

“In order to survive, we need subscriptions and revenue but at the same time we want to bring in movies that don’t just entertain but educate and make an impact in politics and policy,” said Lin.

No countries in Asia allow same-sex couples to marry or enter civil unions, and Taiwan voters rejected the chance to legalize same-sex marriages in a referendum late last year.

Lin, 45, a trained lawyer who grew up in California but moved back to Taiwan in 2004, helped make and screen pro-LGBT+ films and shorts ahead of the Taiwan vote.

Despite the rejection by voters, Lin still expects the government to introduce legislation on same-sex unions before the end of May in order to comply with a 2017 constitutional court ruling which set a two-year deadline for legalization.

“The defeat of the marriage equality referendum … only brought out more determination from gays and their allies to be more vocal about their lives and the fight for rights,” said the father-of-two.

“Taiwan will is still going to be the first country in Asia that will have marriage equality or civil partnership.” — Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Katy Migiro