The intersection of the free market and Chinese censorship in Hollywood, and what that means for our culture.
This week, on the “Heritage Explains” podcast, we discuss the intersection of the free market and Chinese censorship in Hollywood, and what that means for our culture.
DOESCHER: China is on track to overtake the U.S. as the largest consumer of movies in the world. They love Hollywood, but do they love the same Hollywood we do? As most know, China is communist, and while they are somewhat economically open, there is still significant control over the content Chinese people are exposed to. It goes something like this, in order for the U.S. film to crack the Chinese market, certain themes cannot be portrayed, certain products must be taken out, and certain speech must be limited. Seems easy right? Not so much.
DOESCHER: Hollywood is relying more and more on the Chinese markets to make profits on movies. That means our films are being written with China in mind.
MIKE GONZALEZ: American audiences are being submitted to censorship, not our own censorship, but a foreign power’s censorship, and a Communist Party censorship. But, we get shown a very benign view of China, in which China is a normal country, no different from Paris, or Britain, or Germany. That is not the case obviously. If you speak against the government in Germany, nothing happens to you. If you speak against the government in China, they’ll throw you in jail.
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Hollywood Pilloried By PEN America For Playing Ball With China’s Censorship Demands; “Troubling Compromises On Free Expression,” Report Exclaims
China continues to exert damaging influence on Hollywood, report finds
Wed 5 Aug 2020 15.53 BST
Last modified on Wed 5 Aug 2020 16.34 BST
A day that U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Sen. Ted Cruz and PEN America agree on the basics of anything is obviously a chilly one in Hell, but Wednesday is such a day with the publication of a candid new report by the free speech organization condemning “Hollywood’s approach to acceding to Chinese dictates.
“Beijing has sent a clear message to the filmmaking world, that filmmakers who criticize China will be punished, but that those who play ball with its censorship strictures will be rewarded,” proclaims the hard-hitting “Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing” report from PEN America in language echoing recent strident statements by America’s top law enforcement official and the Texas GOP senator. “The Chinese Communist Party, in fact, holds major sway over whether a Hollywood movie will be profitable or not — and studio executives know it,” the 94-page document adds, with 1997’s releases of Seven Years In Tibet and Martin Scorsese’s Kundun lamented as the last year of Hollywood sovereignty.
A study from Pen America warns of the long-term effects of studios censoring content to appease the Chinese government
A new report has found that the Chinese government’s influence on Hollywood is posing a serious threat to free expression.
The 94-page study, from the literary and human rights group Pen America, details the many ways that studios and film-makers continue to change “cast, plot, dialogue and settings” in an “effort to avoid antagonising Chinese officials” in films including Iron Man 3, World War Z and the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick.
“The Chinese Communist party is increasingly shaping what global audiences see,” said James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at Pen America, also a lead author of the report. “While we are all well aware of the strict controls that China’s government maintains over dissent, independent thought and creativity within its own borders, the long arm of Chinese censorship – powered by vast economic incentives – has also reached deep into Hollywood, shaping perceptions, inculcating sensitivities and reshaping the bounds of what can be shown, said and told.”
Through dozens of interviews and case studies, the authors explain the many changes that have been forced upon films before they are granted a release into a lucrative market. LGBT content was removed from Bohemian Rhapsody, Star Trek: Beyond, Alien: Covenant and Cloud Atlas, scenes where Chinese people were killed were taken out of Skyfall and Mission: Impossible III and a major character was changed from Tibetan to Celtic in Doctor Strange, a decision made by the screenwriter to avoid the risk of “alienating one billion people”.
In 2019, American films made over $2.6bn in China with Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw making more money there than in the US.
The release of the report comes after the US government has openly criticised Hollywood for kowtowing to Chinese intervention, also blaming the studios for pre-emptively censoring or canning potentially difficult projects.
“Many more scripts never see the light of day because writers and producers know not to test the limits,” the attorney general, William Barr, said in July. “Chinese government censors don’t need to say a word because Hollywood is doing their work for them. This is a massive propaganda coup for the Chinese Communist party.”
In June, Richard Gere appeared before the US Senate to warn about the dangers of letting China control content. “The combination of Chinese censorship, coupled with American film studios’ desire to access China’s market, can lead to self-censorship and overlooking social issues that great American films once addressed,” he said.