Although there has been progress concerning the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam, such as the lift of a ban on same-sex marriage in 2015, love isn’t always love within Vietnamese society. The previous generation has yet to come to terms with this idea.
“Goodbye Mother” is a recently released Vietnamese film that spotlights love in the Vietnamese LGBTQ+ community. Set in the beautiful Mekong Delta, the movie tells the journey of Van and his partner Ian in seeking acceptance of their relationship from their family members. Rustic, passionate, and tranquil are just some of the words to describe this film. Unlike other Vietnamese LGBTQ+ films that are often times a tragic love story, “Goodbye Mother” exudes authenticity in its love story, and normalizes a same-sex relationship. However, the film doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of gender expectations for couples in Vietnamese society, on top of the responsibilities of the only son in the family.
Vietcetera had the opportunity to speak with Lanh Thanh, who plays the main character Van in the film, to learn more about the character’s journey in coming out and finding acceptance from his family as well as the actor’s personal growth after the making of this movie.
How do you think your character, Van, would have liked to come out to their mother instead of having it be an accident?
This film speaks to the difficulties in the way that people of the LGBTQ+ community express their emotions and thoughts to their families. This film wants everyone to face your own thoughts, your hope and your stories that will be shared with your family. Van is a thoughtful character and he loves his mother a lot. Therefore, it’s just a matter of time that he will have to talk to his mother about his stories because this is his original intention when he decided to fly back home to visit.
In real life, it’s hard for it to be an accident. I think Van would chat with his mother in her room, brings her gifts that both Van and Ian prepared from the States and truly open up to his mother about his own thoughts, feelings and decisions to fulfill the responsibility as the only son in the family and as a partner. There will be challenges along the way, but I would like the audience to know that every problem can be solved when the unconditional love of a mother is always present.
How important is Van’s coming out to your character’s partner, Ian and to the mother?
Van’s coming out is very important to Ian because not only does it show acceptance but it’s an assertion of his love towards Ian. It also shows that he’s accepting a new life ahead. It’s his assertion to his family about his love and maturity that he’s ready to do everything for that love. He’s willing to face gossip from his family and prejudice from society to tell everyone that their love is simply love, like any other couple.
Him coming out to his mom is a desire to seek acceptance from his family, especially from his mom. He hopes that his mom will accept him as he is and believe that he’ll be able to thrive in this society. It’s an assertion to his mom that his feelings towards Ian is real. Even though in the film his coming out was rather an accident, it being an accident also helps him to open up honestly about his struggles to his mom. This speaks to Van’s responsibility to his family and a desire to seek sympathy and an understanding from the mother.
Is there such a thing as unconditional love of a mother when it comes to sexual orientation or does it take time?
Every parent in the world loves their child, and they won’t ask for anything in return. The child is very lucky because they receive the love of their parents. Therefore, time is an important, necessary factor. We need time to accept, to love, and to listen to each other’s emotions and feelings. In an interview, our Director mentioned that when an individual is born, that person will follow their own path; but sometimes, their path doesn’t live up to the expectations of the family. That sometimes is not so easily accepted by the family members right away. Therefore, instead of pressuring that individual to live up to the family’s expectations, we should give them time to prove that they are able to thrive in this society. What matters is giving them and us some time to accept changes and the fact that there is a unique individual in the family. It doesn’t matter if it will take a short or a long time.
How do you think Van balances responsibility as the only son in the family and his responsibilities in his relationship with Ian?
First of all, Van brings his partner, Ian, along with him to visit his family but doesn’t want Ian to feel isolated. At night, he will sleep next to his partner on the floor but when the morning comes, he will move to his own bed. This just shows that he’s very attentive to people’s feelings. He doesn’t want to blindly follow love and forget his original intention to his family, and that is again telling everybody his stories to seek an understanding from them. In addition, he sometimes avoids his mother’s gaze of suspicion, and tries to give more love to prove to her that he is able to take ownership of his life. He is confident in expressing his love towards his family and his mother. At the same time, he doesn’t forget that his partner is also waiting for him to deal with their love and their situation.
He also wants his family to slowly become accepting to “the differences” in the family but it’s still appropriate. He doesn’t want to make things more complicated and he just wants it to be smooth and calm. He just yearns for peace in his life and he doesn’t feel the need to yell on top of his lungs to force people to accept him and his partner.
Do you think the grandmother having dementia made her more accepting of the relationship?
There are a lot of interpretations for having a grandmother who has dementia as a character in the movie. Both the grandmother and the mother experience the loss of a husband, and they both pour all their love into the family. The grandmother doesn’t have any other choice except for accepting and loving her family members. This is what’s called unconditional love. She cares a lot about whether her grandchild has a happy life and is loved by people whom Van cares about.
The audience can think that she has dementia, but she’s actually still aware of what’s going on around her. She thought if the family doesn’t face the issue now, when would be the right time. Therefore, I don’t necessarily think that she’s more accepting because she has dementia but rather it’s her unconditional love for her grandchild.
How would you respond to viewers who claimed the grandmother having dementia made her more accepting?
In the film, there is a line said to Ian by the grandmother, “If this person doesn’t work out then find another one.” This seems like a random thought but it shows the grandmother’s acceptance, and that she’s still very bright. Why doesn’t she say ‘if this guy doesn’t work out, then find another girl,’ but instead she said ‘if this guy doesn’t work out then find another guy.’
Again, this shows her open-mindedness and acceptance towards Van’s sexual orientation. And if Van can’t find happiness in this relationship, just move on; it doesn’t matter who the next person will be. She has lived in a world full of prejudice and discrimination, and she’s tired of it. Sometimes she might just pretend she has dementia to take that societal pressure off her shoulders and live her own happy life. If anybody wants to use that reason, then I would like to say bravely deal with the situation. The grandmother bravely accepts and deals with the fact that there is a family member whose sexual orientation doesn’t fit societal norms and loves him instead of rejecting her grandchild.
How has your view of the LGBTQ+ community changed after the making of the movie?
Before the making of the movie, I can only sympathize with their difficulties [the LGBTQ+ community] and accept them as who they are. My respect for them is simply words of encouragement so that they can have a better outlook in life. After the making of the movie, I can then further understand their struggles and am more receptive to their thoughts, their emotions and their difficulties. Therefore, I just hope that the society would be more receptive to the people in this community.
How can safe spaces be created for the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam?
There are a lot of ways. Every environment has their own safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. In my opinion, I would say just stay true to yourself. Be kind to one another and just think of how our actions can bring kindness to this society. If we just stay true to ourselves and live a positive life, people will have a different outlook on you and will then support you.
How can people be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam?
I think that we should be open-minded when listening to their thoughts and emotions. We [should] listen to stories and share love, not only to this community but also everyone around us. I believe that when you’re able to share your love and compassion with somebody else, you will receive more than what you give. Not just pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community in Vietnam, but everybody should be kind to one another, do good things and give love to others. If anybody is interested in this topic then I would recommend watching this film at least once, so that you will have a different outlook on this topic as well as see the director’s point of view for this movie.
How do you think your character, Van and Ian would celebrate the Pride parade?
Based on the time I’ve been playing this role and geting to know Van, I think Van won’t necessarily have to go down the streets and yell on top of his lungs,“I’m gay.” If Van is a person in real life, he would choose a tranquil place with his partner enjoying tea, champagne or dancing along to the music.
It doesn’t have to be that complicated and sometimes we miss out on those little moments. What matters is still their love. I think that this will be more suitable for Van’s character. However, I think joining the Pride parade would be fun too. If there’s a side story, then I think Van and Ian will join everybody on the streets and yell out “Yo, we love each other!”