Hollywood movies

How does China influence Hollywood films?

Like it or not, relying on a foreign country for box office revenue will have ripple effects on the content produced.

The global box office is bigger than it’s ever been. With the pandemic over, we’re trying to find ways to bring fresh money into theaters. Films that travel the world have never been more important. But what happens when the country where the film is to make money has lots of laws and a review process? What happens when studios start changing stories and characters and casting casting calls to appease others?

Well, that’s sort of where Hollywood is now with China. Until 1994, almost all films shown in Chinese theaters were state-funded. They told stories about their history and were usually there to support the Communist Party. But in 2010, Avatar received a rare release in China. This movie made $200 million and turned heads in Hollywood. Suddenly they wanted to get all the big movies into this market, but to do that they had to override their censors.

In a new book titled Red Carpet: Hollywood, China and the Battle for Global Supremacy, Erich Schwartzel writes about how the Chinese Communist Party changed Hollywood. Recently, Schwartzel sat down with Vox to talk about the country’s relationship with Tinseltown.

Let’s review some of the responses from the interview and break down what’s going on in Hollywood.

‘Avatar’Credit: 20th century fox

How does China influence Hollywood films?

One of the first things discussed is what kind of content offends Chinese censors. When Hollywood submits a film, they look for a few things. Schwartzel says,

“They watch the movie, and many things can happen. They can say, this is approved for publication without change. Or, it will be approved for publication if you cut these three things. Or, it’s not endorsed at all, and we’re not going to tell you why. But you can imagine the reasons. Obviously, there are political subjects that are completely missed for this group. No studio will enter into a film about the Dalai Lama, or that has Tibetan characters, or a reference to Chinese history that the authorities would rather their people not see. But there are other less obvious concerns the party has had over time. One is for movies involving time travel, because a world where there’s time travel means there’s also a story that may be different than what the party is proposing. There’s also been a lot of scrutiny and, frankly, rejection of any gay elements, or stories involving same-sex couples or gay characters in the movies.”

If you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on, you’ve probably seen Disney making a lot of money in China. Marvel movies have been hugely popular there, inflating their budgets and even forcing Disney to add scenes for the Chinese market to satisfy them.

But all is not rosy there. star wars movies don’t do well, as the original isn’t widely seen. And subsequent sequels are so reminiscent of the originals that Chinese audiences found them confusing. They were confused by The force awakens, who had so many tributes, they didn’t connect.

‘The force awakens’Credit: lucasfilm

So how does this change movies?

Schwartzel says that once a lot of money was involved, the stories started to be edited to make sure they could make it to China. He said:

“When the studios started realizing how much money they could make in the Chinese market, not only did they avoid storylines that would be politically problematic, but they also thought, ‘How can we maximize our revenue or interests? the low ?’ One of the things they started doing was cast Chinese actors and actresses in these films. x-men movies, the Transformers movies. Often they starred in very small or cameo roles, Chinese actors and actresses who were extremely famous in their home country but unknown in America. Then they would use those little pieces to market the movie in China.”

These lessons were learned very early on. When MGM redid Red Dawn, they didn’t want to make Russia the invader, so they went with China. The movie was shot and nearly done, but MGM realized they also had a new James Bond movie coming out. They worried that in retaliation for making China the bad guys in Red Dawnthey would ask China to censor and ban the Bond movie, which they needed to make money.

So what did MGM do?

Schwartzel said, “UEventually, they decide to send the finished film to a special effects company. They had to take every reference to China – every Chinese flag, every line of dialogue referring to China, every Chinese military uniform – and replace it with North Korea. It cost the studio a million dollars and took hours and hours of overtime to make.

‘Red Dawn’Credit: MGM

Where are we now?

These conversations happen all the time when movies are released in China. Look What Marvel Had When They Tried To Send Eternals in China. Chloe Zhao’s old comments were dug up and there was a cautious line for everyone to follow. The same thing happened with Simu Liu and Shang Chi, who had also made disparaging comments about China in the past. Well, neither of those movies were released in China, which hurt both of their long-term box offices (while they all did well in the rest of the world).

We even saw them shoot Keanu Reeves movies a few weeks ago.

So with those sensitivities and budgets in mind, it will be interesting to see how studios respond and who they hire. This goes beyond content and could extend to packaging and movie big names in the future. There’s a lot to follow, and it’s not just about Hollywood. These are the United States and China in general.

According to Schwartzel:

“The movies have become an indicator of the larger rivalry that’s forming between the United States and China. I think it ultimately becomes a story of values, and what values ​​are being shipped around the world. For a hundred years, the Hollywood movies have been considered the default global movie entertainment;someone once said that movies helped turn America into “an invitational empire”, a gravitational pull to the country and its way of life I think China, seeing its turn dominate a century, wants to copy this playbook.”

All of this has led China to forgo the release of American films overseas. We’ll try to keep track of all of this as it develops.

Let me know what you think in the comments.