Michigan Ross Alum’s Award-Winning Documentary, “People’s Republic of Desire,” Hits Theaters This Month
Is a Black Mirror future already upon us? That’s a question Michigan Ross alum Hao Wu, MBA ’00 alludes to in his new documentary, “People’s Republic of Desire.” Winner of the 2018 SXSW Grand Jury Award for Documentary Feature, Wu’s film dives deep into China’s complicated live-streaming culture, a digital realm that attracts 422 million viewers in China and is expected to be worth $15.9 billion by 2020.
Through the popular livestreaming platform, YY, everyday people can acquire a large audience of fans, many of whom are eager to showcase their appreciation — and wealth — to their favorite livestreamers. Fans can give monetary gifts to the streamers, typically by purchasing their digital avatars. These contributions are publicly displayed on the platform, and those who make particularly large payments often receive sought-after shoutouts.
In the film, Wu follows two popular live streamers who compete in one of China’s annual idol competitions. Played out in a hyper-competitive, capitalistic dynamic, the contestants must entice fans to buy them votes in order to win.
“Livestreaming has developed a complicated virtual universe in China,” Wu notes, “[It’s] a universe encompassing idol worshipping, conspicuous consumption, status seeking, and layers upon layers of profit-making — basically a digital replica of our real life with a whole spectrum of human desires.”
Wu’s path to filmmaking began with a career in the tech sector. Following his Michigan Ross MBA, Wu worked at companies like Yahoo China, Alibaba, and TripAdvisor. This professional background helped inspire the focus of his latest documentary. “Once I switched to become a full-time filmmaker, I wanted to explore how technology affects human relations, and how the seemingly easy riches enabled by technology change our sense of being, of happiness,” Wu says.
“People’s Republic of Desire” opens in select U.S. cities Nov. 30th.