Student Spotlight: Filmmaking grad student creates LGBTQ-centered art

During his time at the University of Iowa, graduate student Hao Zhou has sought to increase LGBTQ representation in art and media by making LGBTQ-based independent films and photography projects.


Photo of Hao Zhou. Contributed by Justin Torner.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

Through all of his successes, independent filmmaker and photographer Hao Zhou’s ultimate goal remains: to help members of the LGBTQ community feel seen in art.

Hailing from Nanchuan District in Chongqing, China, Hao is currently in his second year of the Film and Video Production Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Iowa. Through film and photography, the artist primarily focuses his work on LGBTQ issues.

The graduate student found his initial calling for film when he was a teenager. Inspiration struck after he began watching independent films, which he found to have a bigger impact than the commercially made Hollywood films he viewed at a younger age.

“The TV films I watched as a child didn’t really connect to me personally,” he said. “So, I guess it’s mostly from my teenage years, I watched tons of independent films by myself.”

Recently, Hao won the “Next Masters Support Program” award from Talents Tokyo for his upcoming feature film Jìnbì. The Tokyo-based filmmaking program supports up-and-coming filmmakers from East and Southeast Asia.

“Basically, I was an alumni of Talents Tokyo, so I participated back in 2018 in their workshops, masterclasses, and their production classes,” Hao said. “It was like a ten-day event in Tokyo. They call it a promotion foundation, so they are supporting filmmakers who work on completing their films … This is a really great foundation because I’m about to finish another feature film I am working on.”

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Earlier this year, the MFA student was also awarded scholarships from the Prism Foundation, an organization that focuses on supporting and empowering the Asian & Pacific Islander LGBTQ community, and the Chinese Rainbow Network, the largest community organization for the Chinese LGBTQ community outside of China.

Hao’s main artistic message is to share LGBTQ representation in the media. He said he feels that historically, members of the LGBTQ community, specifically Asian members, have not been represented enough in art.

“I think still, the situation is getting better nowadays, but still I feel like we need more LGBTQ representation in art and in films,” the grad student said. “Especially Asian people — now I’m in the U.S. so I guess most of the films, even if they are about queer people, most of those films about the LGBTQ population are not the Asian population.”

Hao’s interest in representing the LGBTQ community is ongoing, and his current projects reflect that.  One of his upcoming projects is a photography-based project focusing on representing the LGBTQ community on a more local scale, specifically documenting members of the community in Iowa.

“I guess my goal is really to carry out all my projects, even little assignments from my classes that center on LGBTQ issues and LGBTQ communities,” he said. “I just really feel like that’s my passion, that’s my devotion — that’s what I feel I should do to increase the visibility of the LGBTQ community.”