Hollywood has long been accused of pandering to China – soft-pedalling in order not to give offense. Now comes a study by Hong Kong production company Dragon Horse Films attempts to quantify just how far Western entertainment conglomerates are self-censoring.
The company says that there is a correlation between the size of the Chinese box office and the number of Hollywood decisions to avoid negative Chinese story lines and characters.
It says that a tipping point occurred in 2011 when the Chinese theatrical box office exceeded $2 billion. That put it on a par with grosses from Japan and on course to become the world’s second largest B.O. territory. China’s B.O. last year hit $6.4 billion and is now forecast to approach $8 billion in 2017.
“With the rising importance of the mainland Chinese box office, Hollywood and Hong Kong producers routinely self-censor stories to appease Beijing’s strict censorship rules,” says Michael T. George of MTG Asia Ltd, who contributed to the report. “That means anything intellectually challenging is to be avoided. No politics. No social issues. Not even a wisp of irony. Authorities must always be portrayed in a positive light – unless they are corrupt foreigners.”
The report, which catalogs 120 English-language movies, with Chinese storylines or characters, that have been released since China opened its economy in 1978, says that Chinese bad guys are still seen in some English language movies, but these are usually co-productions with mainland Chinese partners. That means scripts must be submitted to censors in the same way as if they were local Chinese films. It gives the example of “Smart Chase” and “Skiptrace.”
Alternatively, if Hollywood producers feature Chinese villains, they cast Western actors, such as Dave Bautista in “Enter the Warrior’s Gate.” An alternate strategy is to cast other Asians, often Koreans. Examples there include Luc Besson’s “Lucy” or the remake of John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow.”
Other commentators have made similar observations. They cite the positive portrayal of China’s space program in both “Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” and Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Another was 2012 MGM movie “Red Dawn,” in which CGI was used in post-production to change soldiers originally filmed as Chinese into North Korean.
The full report is published on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
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