The University of Iowa

In the news: Openly pursuing his cinematic dreams

June 29th, 2020

MFA student Hao Zhou makes queer-themed movies to help mainstream audiences better understand, and support, LGBTQ+ people and their lives


By Alison McGaughey, University of Iowa

As an undergraduate student in China, Hao Zhou had to hide the subject matter of his film project. Making a movie about queer people put him at risk.

Today, as a graduate student at the University of Iowa, the filmmaker—who has already had successes on the international stage—is not only living his life and following his artistic passion openly, but received UI awards that support him in doing so. He’s now working to tell the stories of fellow Chinese LGBTQ+ students living in the U.S.

Zhou, a second-year student in the Master of Fine Arts program in film and video production, grew up in the Nanchuan District, China, with limited access to films and never having seen a movie in a cinema until he was 20 years old. Raised in a farming family by parents who had little formal education, Zhou, now 28, was the first in his family to go to college, earning a degree in radio and TV production in 2015. He came to the University of Iowa on an Iowa Arts Fellowship, which is designed to recruit talented artists and provides a funded year of study to produce scholarly or creative work.

“The only reason I’m here today is because of generous support from institutions, but the most important one to me is the Iowa Arts Fellowship,” he says. “Without it, I’d have had little chance of moving upward in my research or study. I got admitted into other elite programs in the U.S., including some Ivy League programs, but they didn’t offer me the kind of support I received here. I’m very grateful the University of Iowa offered me an Iowa Arts Fellowship to enable me to study here.”