China increasingly dictating what films are made, or avoided, in Hollywood

October 12, 2016 8:23 pm0 commentsViews: 41
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall. Chinese censors cut a scene from the movie that they thought made China look weak. Because China is such a huge market, some U.S. moviemakers may choose to avoid portraying China in negative terms. (Photo courtesy: Danjaq/Eon Productions/The Kobal Collection)

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall. Chinese censors cut a scene from the movie that they thought made China look weak. Because China is such a huge market, some U.S. moviemakers may choose to avoid portraying China in negative terms. (Photo courtesy:
Danjaq/Eon Productions/The Kobal Collection)

(TibetanReview.net, Oct11, 2016) – American filmmakers have made common cause with Chinese censors in pursuit of profit, writing scripts to satisfy the rulers of the People’s Republic, said an Op-Ed carried by latimes.com Oct 7. This doesn’t simply weaken the films the US exports to China, it also limits what plays at the multiplex on American soil, it said. “It (also) diminishes our understanding of the greatest geostrategic challenge America will face over the coming decades: the rise of China.”

The Op-Ed said 16 members of Congress had written a letter calling for scrutiny of Chinese investments in the US film industry, with former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) seeking a review of Hollywood’s pursuit of Chinese box office.

“By controlling the financing and distribution of American movies [in China],” Wolf was reported to have written in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “and [by] subjecting them to censorship…, Beijing could effectively dictate what is and isn’t made.”

The Op-Ed noted that China’s film industry wasn’t being run by the talented; rather, it was being run by the Chinese Communist Party, which had grown increasingly assertive and paranoid since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. It added that Xi had been waging a soft-power campaign that required artists, filmmakers, writers, academics and the media to “serve socialism” and show “positive energy” by offering uplifting messages about the party.

What makes China a dangerous obsession for Hollywood is that the country now has a larger middle class (consumers with annual incomes of between $50,000 and $500,000) than the United States, combining a massive purchasing power with aggressive authoritarian governance.

Next year, China’s box office receipts are expected to surpass America’s. The Op-Ed continued that already a movie cannot break box office records unless it plays in China, and it cannot play in China unless it is approved by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. Hence, American studios that want films distributed in China either submit to Beijing’s censors or become adept at self-censorship.

The problem is compounded because China might object to anything — its censors don’t explain their decisions.

As a result, Hollywood is now allowing China to determine which movies get made, no longer greenlighting projects to which Beijing might object. Hence, one no longer sees the output of movies like “Red Corner,” “Seven Years in Tibet” and “Kundun,” all released in 1997, before China’s box office became the force it is today.

The Op-Ed’s author, Robert Daly, who is director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center in Washington, believes: “If a free culture is essential to our national well-being, it matters that the US is surrendering its ability to respond to this historic challenge through film. Congress is right to worry that Hollywood’s global business model has implications for national security. The film industry needs to prove it is protecting creative freedom in the face of Chinese pressures and temptations, before the invitations arrive from Capitol Hill.”

Besides having previously worked as a cultural exchange officer at the US Embassy in Beijing, Day has later been an actor, producer and program host on Chinese TV.

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