Forget North Korea: Watch out for Chinese Censorship of Hollywood: As Movie Production Companies Seek Distribution in China, Beijing Increasingly Exercises Its Clout and Censors Movies and Scripts It Doesn't Like

By Duke, Selwyn | The New American, February 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

Forget North Korea: Watch out for Chinese Censorship of Hollywood: As Movie Production Companies Seek Distribution in China, Beijing Increasingly Exercises Its Clout and Censors Movies and Scripts It Doesn't Like


Duke, Selwyn, The New American


One might think that pudgy and profligate little Kim Jong-un could be swelling with pride. Regardless of whether the FBI is correct in implicating North Korea in the November computer hacking of Sony Corporation, which the Marxist hermit state has denied involvement in but nonetheless calls "righteous"--Kim can revel in the knowledge that his regime is perceived as being able to bring a major corporation to its knees halfway around the world and create enough fear to disrupt a Western film's release. That work, of course, is The Interview, the Columbia Pictures action comedy portraying the rotund dictator in a negative light.

Many have castigated Sony--Columbia's parent company--for capitulation because it initially held the movie back from release to theaters altogether. Pundit Linda Chavez likened the behemoth's folding to Barack Obama's normalization of relations with Cuba, writing that the two of them "are on the same page when it comes to appeasing dictators." Politician and prognosticator Newt Gingrich tweeted, "With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very very dangerous precedent." And both may be correct. Nevertheless, there is something certainly not unprecedented: Hollywood's appeasement of dictatorial regimes.

Most moviegoers don't know it, but many of the films on which they spend American dollars have been filtered by Chinese censors--by Beijing's powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), to be precise.

That's the stick. The carrot is China's lucrative market, now the world's biggest after recently ousting the United States from the number-one spot. And together they amount to economic blackmail.

How effective is it? Well, ironic given current events, did it ever strike you as odd that the invaders in the 2012 remake of the 1984 film Red Dawn were from small, third-rate power North Korea and not, oh, let's say, from what could be the next evil empire, China? It should.

Because when Red Dawn was originally shot, the invaders were Chinese.

The studio creating the film, MGM, digitally altered the movie in 2011 to make them appear as North Koreans--in deference to China.

And this goose-stepping to Beijing's tune is common now. As the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2012:

   Chinese bad guys are vanishing--literally.
   Western studios are increasingly
   inclined to excise potentially
   negative references to China in the
   hope that the films can pass muster
   with Chinese censors and land one
   of several dozen coveted annual
   revenue-sharing import quota slots
   in Chinese cinemas.

      ... When Sony's "Men in Black 3"
   was released in China last month, censors
   had the studio remove or shorten
   several scenes set in New York's Chinatown
   that they believed depicted
   Chinese Americans unflatteringly.

      ... "Hollywood these days is sometimes
   better at carrying water for the
   Chinese than the Chinese themselves,"
   said Stanley Rosen, director of the
   East Asian Studies Center at USC and
   an expert on film and media. "We are
   doing all the heavy lifting for them."

      A screenwriter on another Hollywood
   tentpole was told by the studio
   to steer clear of any Chinese villains
   in shaping his script.

      ... "It's a clear-cut case--maybe
   the first I can think of in the history of
   Hollywood--where a foreign country's
   censorship board deeply affects
   what we produce," said a leading
   Hollywood producer.

Oh, and don't ask that producer's name -or that of many others interviewed for the L.A. Times story.

They'd only speak under the condition of anonymity.

They were afraid of offending Chinese business interests.

And Chinese good guys are appearing to take the bad guys' places. For instance, while Sony's Columbia Pictures has now ostensibly caved to the North Koreans, it had already kowtowed to the Chinese: In its disaster film 2012, it was by design that the White House chief of staff sang the Chinese's praises, lauding them as visionaries. …

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