Baby Steps a "sequel" to Lee Ang's seminal drama The Wedding Banquet

Film-maker Barney Cheng's film Baby Steps looks at the trials gay couples go through to have children

Taiwanese-American film-maker Barney Cheng came out to his mother 26 years ago. But she only told her friends about her son's sexuality this year with the help of his debut directorial feature, Baby Steps.

Cheng, 44, wrote, directed and also starred in the film as Danny, a gay man who tries to have a baby through surrogacy.

He says: "I think she accepted me as a person but she had the hardest time coming out to her friends. There's a saying in the gay community that when you come out, your parents go into the closet."

I think she accepted meas a person but she had the hardest time coming out to her friends. There’s a saying in the gay community that when you come out, your parents go into the closet. ’’

BARNEY CHENG on coming out to his mother 26 years ago

Cheng was speaking to local media when he was here earlier this month for the 7th Love And Pride Film Festival, where Baby Steps was the opening film. His film is rated R21 and is restricted to a single print for its general release, at GV Suntec from tomorrow.

A pivotal relationship in the movie is that between Danny and his mother. The casting of accomplished veteran Taiwanese actress Gua Ah-leh took the film in a different direction as the focus was initially on Danny and his partner Tate (Michael Adam Hamilton).

Cheng says the actress "inspired me to develop the mother character more fully. You can see it's her story and you see her grow".

And that emotional push-and- pull between mother and son is "very real" as Cheng drew upon his own experiences in depicting Danny's story.

He makes clear with a laugh though that the movie is not fully autobiographical: "I'm single and I don't have a baby."

Instead, he was inspired by friends who had children through international surrogacy.

In a way, Baby Steps can be said to be a sequel in spirit to The Wedding Banquet (1993), Lee Ang's seminal film about a gay Taiwanese immigrant who marries a woman to placate his parents.

In fact, Hsu Li-kong, who was associate producer for The Wedding Banquet, is executive producer for Baby Steps.

Cheng says: "We were very clear on the connection between them. Wedding Banquet was about a gay man's coming-out story, this movie is about a new kind of family and how the mother eventually embraces and accepts this new family her son is creating. There's a little evolution going on."

As an Asian film-maker, he was also very conscientious when it came to casting and he made sure the film reflected the ethnic diversity of Los Angeles, which is where he is based.

"In LA, there's black, Hispanic, Indian, Chinese-American, all colours, very diverse. The movie has to be real, not like a lot of Hollywood movies where it's just white people on screen. That p***** me off."

The same attitude of inclusiveness also had him casting women in positions of power, be it as a doctor or a senior customs officer. His next project will also turn stereotypes on their head - it is a romantic comedy set in Napa Valley in which a white woman falls in love with a handsome man from China.

It is a script he has been working on since 2011 but he has been doing research for it for far longer.

He adds with a chuckle: "I've been drinking wine and visiting vineyards since college."

•Baby Steps opens at GV Suntec tomorrow

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Taking Baby Steps towards acceptance'. Print Edition | Subscribe