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‘My Boyfriend Died of COVID-19’

Apr 20, 2020 | 831 videos
Video by Olmo Parenti

As 2019 drew to a close, a young woman, Niuniu, and her fiancé, Tongsheng, looked forward to a bright future. In the spring, as the cherry blossoms fell in Wuhan, the couple would get married. They had started saving up to buy a house.


Just a month later, however, their dreams came to a grinding halt. An animated short documentary from Olmo Parenti, based on a series of Niuniu’s WeChats, tells the heartrending story of Tongsheng’s battle with COVID-19. Like many victims of this pandemic, Tongsheng had difficulty accessing medical care. In mid-January, he died alone in a hospital waiting room.


Federica Fruhwirth’s animations bring Niuniu and Tongsheng’s tragic story to life with a simplicity that foregrounds Niuniu’s narration. “The goal was to let the viewer focus on the narration and the temporal escalation in events,” Parenti told me. “We didn’t want the animations to be frenetic and exciting; we wanted the visuals to match the delicacy and pace of Niuniu’s writing.”


Perhaps the most affecting part of Niuniu’s story is a letter that Tongsheng wrote, addressed to Niuniu’s future boyfriend.


“Congratulations on being Niuniu’s boyfriend!” the letter reads. “I envy you because you have my same talent. You managed to be with a woman so beautiful.”


The letter goes on to lightheartedly warn the future boyfriend of Niuniu’s shortcomings—and to encourage him to love her unconditionally nonetheless.

“Reading that letter was a heartbreaking experience,” Parenti said.

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.