(TibetanReview.net, Aug07’20) – PEN America has expressed alarms over China’s domineering influence over the film industry in the USA, noting that Hollywood studios that once spotlighted the Tibetan cause now censor their movies to appease the Chinese government which holds major sway over their profitability.
The report, Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing, says a system has emerged in which “Beijing bureaucrats can demand changes to Hollywood movies—or expect Hollywood insiders to anticipate and make these changes, unprompted—without any significant hue or cry over such censorship.”
PEN America – which promotes freedom of expression and represents more than 7,000 writers and supporters nationwide – says in its report that Hollywood had previously made several films that directly confronted China’s abysmal human rights record. These included films like Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt, and Kundun, directed by Martin Scorsese.
Beijing retaliated by imposing sanctions on the films’ producers, directors, and stars.
In 2016, fear of offending China made Marvel Studios to remake the character of the Ancient One in its movie Doctor Strange, a Tibetan in the comic books, into a Celt played by Scottish actress Tilda Swinton.
Faced with criticisms, screenwriter, C Robert Cargill, defended the change by saying: “If you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that [the character is] Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people … and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’”
PEN America says Cargill’s statement “reflects that of a screenwriter taking the Chinese government’s attitude toward Tibet into account when determining how his story should be told.”
PEN America notes that Beijing’s censorship of Hollywood is part of the Chinese government’s success in compelling foreign companies to comply with China’s propaganda. It cites numerous instances such cases, including in 2018 where Mercedes-Benz apologized after quoting the Dalai Lama in an Instagram post, claiming it was an “extremely erroneous message”.
Calling films “perhaps the world’s most influential artistic and cultural medium,” PEN America notes, “Stories shape the way people think, and the stories told by Hollywood reach billions.”
“There’s no doubt that the combination of Chinese censorship, coupled with American film studios’ desire to access China’s market, can lead to self-censorship and to avoiding social issues that great American films once addressed,” Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) Aug 6 quoted Richard Gere as saying. Gere is ICT’s Board Chairman and a prominent Hollywood star whose film Career has been hit by the China-sensitive self-censorship in the US film industry.