By The Nerdling
China’s influence on Hollywood is not a new thing. This has been going on since the early 2000s when China started allowing more outside films to play in their country’s cinemas and partnered with major studios to co-produce films. The instance which comes to mind first is 2012’s Red Dawn, a remake of the 1984 film. The original villains were the Soviets. We were in the middle of the Cold War. The remake was written and filmed with China as the invading country. Tensions between China and Western governments have been high for some time with the Communist China Party (CCP) looking to increase its “soft power.” The updated villain upset the CCP so much, MGM changed the antagonists in post-production to North Korea. Subsequently, Red Dawn was permitted to be in Chinese cinemas. That is just one of many instances where a film was altered to play with Chinese audiences.
In 2018, the number of imported films in China increased to 42 from 2017’s 38. This has been a big boom for Hollywood who makes up nearly 90% of imported films into China. Major studios have become increasingly reliant on the Chinese box office to make up for the slowing cinema-going economy in the U.S.
Most recently, the CCP ramped up the censorship on films produced in-country and Hollywood has stepped up to the plate. Two of the biggest Chinese blockbusters set to be released over the summer were canceled at the last minute, allowing Spider-Man: Far From Home to be a bigger box office hit in China than initially projected.
Despite Todd Phillips’s opinion, the biggest reason for the lack of comedic films being made is they are difficult to export, especially to China. Mid-level studios are dying since their movies are made with a mostly American audience in mind. It costs too much to shoot extra scenes/re-edit to become CCP approved. Studios do not want to invest millions in a film they can’t get THE MOST money out of.
To appease the CCP Censorship Board, many films have cut entire storylines (plot holes be dammed), added Chinese characters who interact with the main stars, or redubbed dialogue that may paint the CCP or Chinese people in a negative light. This is done to the prints of the films released in China, but some of those changes have been made in films released here in the U.S.
Screenwriter Robert Cargill changed the nationality and gender of the Ancient One in 2016’s Doctor Strange. The character is a Tibetan man in the comics. Since this would offend the CCP (who refuse to recognize Tibet as an independent nation), Cargill wrote the Ancient One to be a white woman. Less fallout to offend comic book purists than an entire nation. 2017’s Wonder Woman omitted the bi-sexuality of all the titular character (CCP is anti-LGBTQ+).
This has been going on for some time, but the influence of China on American entertainment has been in the spotlight lately thanks to the NBA. For those who haven’t seen the story, here is the short version. The Houston Rockets GM, Daryl Morey, tweeted out a photo in support of Hong Kong. The protests in Hong Kong are a much bigger story and Phillip DeFranco does a better job explaining than I could, but suffice to say, it pissed off the CCP and the Chinese President, Winnie the Pooh Xi Jinping.
The NBA is growing in popularity in China and earning the sport some major coins. A single tweet canceled the telecast of Rockets pre-season games in China, costing the team an estimated $25 Million. In response, Rockets player, James Harden, has gone on record apologizing for Morey’s tweet and spouting his love of China’s money fans. Morey deleted the tweet chalking it up to his being “uninformed” of the situation. The escalation continues as NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, and several superstars criticize Morey for not being “educated on the situation” while echoing their love of China, much to many American fan’s disappointment (looking at you LeBron James, shame of you!). During pre-season games, spectators have been removed for bringing in signs supporting Hong Kong. Word from the NBA is anyone with signs such as these at future games will be banned.
All of this is a problem. The CCP (a foreign government) flexed their “soft power” of financial clout to publicly censor an American. In the process, they created policy change in an American corporation. They have also done this with Apple. CCP mandated Apple remove an app from their phones that allows Hong Kong protesters to track police. The Taiwanese flag emoji has been removed from the iOS 13. Apple Executives have warned their streaming service content creators “to avoid portraying China in a poor light.” Then there is Blizzard Entertainment and that drama involving a pro-Hong Kong gamer.
A foreign power with a devastating history of human rights violations has the power to influence American corporations. The censorship issue will only get worse as long as these corporations continue to kowtow to that Chinese money. If an employee of Disney, Apple, Blizzard Entertainment, Sony, and so many other corporations use their personal social media to criticize the Chinese government, it is not out of possibility the CCP could flex their muscle and demand the person be censored or fired. Morey’s job is in jeopardy. Yes, he is a public figure, but that is what makes it more worrisome. If they can do this publicly, what’s to stop them from doing this to the little guy?
So many changes are made behind the scenes in our entertainment to appease the all-mighty Chinese payday. They are small, but the power the CCP holds continues to grow. What can we do to reduce the stranglehold? Supporting smaller films not made for export is one. A24 is a great minor-to-mid-level studio (even though their movies can get really weird). Boycotting major studios is another. In the age of mass pirating, that may not be difficult for lots of people. Either way, this is a problem not going away anytime soon.
The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.