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Five ways China is changing Hollywood

The largest nation on earth is democratic, but it affects the American film system in a draconian way. In the past few years, this has led, among other things, to the fact that negative tones have been removed from works.

The People’s Republic of China may describe itself as communist, but the methods with which the Maoist dictatorship seeks to enforce its state doctrine both nationally and internationally are mostly extremely capitalist. In the global economy, China, with its 1.4 billion inhabitants, is considered a cheap production country, but also a financially strong player who, alongside the USA and the EU, sets the pace. This is all the more true for the film industry, because works of art in the broadest sense always have unique selling points which, despite all efforts, make them relatively immune to cheap attempts at imitation, and essentially only have to be produced once and then only bring in money depending on the audience. As a result, a country with a population of around one sixth of the world’s population and in which the middle class has been growing steadily for years is an important market for the film industry. So you have to please the regime’s censorship guards so that a film in the People’s Republic of China can even be shown in cinemas and, above all, without negative propaganda from the government. But China wants to present itself better internationally under Xi Jinping and has actively financed major Hollywood productions in recent years in order to be presented positively in them.

For industry insiders such as film director, screenwriter and producer Ekrem Engizek, Hollywood’s increasing buckling in front of the rulers in Beijing is hardly surprising. The internationally renowned film producer has worked with big stars such as Ben Kingsley, Cuba Gooding Jr., James Franco and 50 Cent.

Public attitude of the Hollywood stars
In times of cancel culture, it is no longer unusual for actors and other creative people to apologize publicly for utterances in the broadest sense of the word. Most of the time, however, this pressure comes from the fans or the general public in the western world. But the customs guardians of China can also force an actor to make a public apology. In order for the latest part of the “Fast and the Furious” series, “F9”, to start in China without negative press from the Communist Party, John Cena (Jakob) had to make a video publicly for his comments on the Republic of China, after the Sorry about the island where it is 99% of the time, commonly known as Taiwan.

Cena had indicated in advance that Taiwan was a sovereign state. This displeased the leadership of the People’s Republic of China, which has long been claiming the island state off its coast and wants to impose its own Maoist doctrine on the republic. Cena saw himself ?? probably due to pressure from the studio? forced to post an apology video in standard Chinese expressing his love for the Chinese people.

The Richard Gere case
The case of Richard Gere shows what can happen if you don’t play by Beijing’s rules of the game. The Buddhist Hollywood star is a friend of the incumbent Dalai Lama and even lived temporarily in his exile Dharmshala. As a result, he is probably the most prominent advocate of an independent and sovereign Tibet, which is known to have been annexed by China, which is why membership of the People’s Republic is also highly controversial under international law. The main problem here lies above all in the opposing ideologies: Tibet as an area that is sometimes defined by the commitment to the Buddhist faith, on the one hand and, as a socialist state, strictly secular China, whose leadership tolerates religions, but basically refuses. For Gere, his clear and often publicized stance on the problem of Tibet meant that with the increasing influence of the People’s Republic of China on the US film industry, roles became increasingly difficult for him? especially in large productions.

persona non grata
Long before China actively influenced Hollywood, problems arose over Tibet. The two western leading actors of the drama “Seven Years in Tibet”, Brad Pitt and David Thewlis, as well as its director Jean-Jacques Annaud and the supporting actor Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk were given a critical look at the incorporation of Tibet by Mao’s China. Lifelong ban on entry into the People’s Republic of China. This makes promotional tours for new films in China impossible. This could be one reason China later showed its mercy on Brad Pitt and lifted the entry ban. They probably wanted to get on well with Hollywood by making the world star a persona grata again.

Influence on content and presentation in Hollywood films
China not only indirectly influences creative decisions and PR in Hollywood productions by letting the market play its part. No, China determines the content of the films, the casting and the representation of the People’s Republic of China in the blockbusters through financial support and direct participation in productions. Why does financially strong Hollywood go along with this? If a Chinese production company is involved, one bypasses the very high taxes paid to the state if the film is to be shown in China.

Here are just a few prominent examples: The Ancient One (the oldest) from the Marvel Comics was actually born 500 years ago in Kamar-Taj in Tibet. At the MCU, he became a Celtic woman, played by Tilda Swinton. Whitewashing for the sake of the Asian market? Yes. Because a wise mentor from Tibet would be unthinkable for the Chinese censors in their cinemas. In «Valerian ?? The City of a Thousand Planets »has a minor character, Sergeant Neza, in the end for no apparent reason. Why? He is played by the extremely popular pop star Kris Wu in China.

In general, despite their rejection of the genre, the Chinese are happy to be part of the game, especially in the field of science fiction. In Roland Emmerich’s “2012”, the Chinese saved the last survivors of mankind with their arks. Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” and Matt Damon in “The Martian” both owe their survival to the Chinese space agency. In the rightly celebrated “Arrival”, it is the relenting of the Chinese General Shang that can avert military action against the visitors. The film “World War Z” was completely redesigned because it aroused the displeasure of the Chinese censors.

But other genres are also affected. In “Top Gun: Maverick”, for example, the patches referring to the military allies Taiwan and Japan in the first part of 1986 with the respective national flags on Maverick’s jacket were replaced by a red triangle on a white background and a uroboros on a red background. Both are politically harmless.

Keeping your own artists in line
2020 was an even bigger catastrophe for the entire cultural industry than for most of the others. The most successful films of the year were Asian productions for a change: the anime “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train” from Japan and “The 800” from the People’s Republic of China. The latter was originally supposed to have its premiere in June 2019 at the Shanghai International Film Festival, but was then removed from the program at short notice by the Chinese censors. A film set at the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War was considered anti-communist. Over a year later, the film was cut by 13 minutes and was shown in theaters. The film “The Hidden Sword”, which deals with the same subject, fared similarly. So it can happen to the Chinese filmmakers, as in these two cases, Guan Hu and Xu Haofeng, in their homeland.

If you go abroad like the Oscar-winning director of “Nomadland” Chloé Zhao, you are by no means safe from China’s moral guards. The production company Searchlight pointed out the press specifically and emphatically that Zhao should be described as a Chinese and not an Asian American. In other ways, too, they wanted to please China. It didn’t help. The film was removed from Chinese theaters in April and the Academy Awards censored completely. So it is hardly surprising that «Mulan» actress Liu Yifei, for example, was probably more afraid of the leadership of China than of the demonstrators in Hong Kong.

Conclusion: China’s censorship guards are trying to control the image of the People’s Republic both at home and abroad with political and financial means, which ironically do not want to fit in with the communist self-image. China wants to show itself to the world as a generous savior and internally continue to push through its state doctrine in a propagandistic way. In doing so, you not only influence creative decisions and the films themselves, but also steer the image that your own population should have of Hollywood greats and their views. The fact that Hollywood is participating in the game of a regime that stands for human rights violations in our present like practically no other is all the more problematic, especially against the background of the cosmopolitan, progressive and liberal image with which the American film industry likes to present itself, because it helps to carry the dictatorship into the world as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Sonia Gupta
Soniya Gupta, who joined the Technical University in October 2015, continues his education life at Technical University. As the passion for aviation increases day by day, it has a great interest in technology and gaming.


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