Over the years, several Hollywood films have been banned in China if they failed to meet the country’s censorship standards. However, it seems the tides have changed, with big-budget Hollywood films actually deciding to refrain from releasing in Chinese markets.
New Delhi: Chinese censorship of Hollywood movies started a long time ago. One of the first films to be banned in China was “The Ten Commandments”, in 1923. A silent religious epic film, it was banned in the country under the category of “superstitious films” due to its religious nature.
The 1925 film “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” and 1931’s “Frankenstein” would follow. Over the years, many films have been banned in China, for a number of reasons – from the depiction of a Chinese flag, to the casting of actors or to filmmakers who did not find favor with the government of country.
Most recently, the 29th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), director Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Chris Hemsworth’s fourth solo outing as “God of Thunder” (the first for any super- MCU heroes), has become one of a long line of films that is unlikely to receive a release date in the territory due to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and scenes.
Reports suggest the film is unlikely to be approved by Chinese censors due to plot points such as Korg’s two fathers, his on-screen moment with another Kronan, and references to Valkyrie being bisexual. .
However, “Thor: Love and Thunder” isn’t the only film to have faced the wrath of Chinese censors in recent years. Movies like Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Eternals” were also not released in mainland China. The films were expected to have a huge appeal in the Chinese market, given their ethnic bent in the script, but they were never released. Simu Liu, the superhero of Chloe Zhao, the superhero of ‘Shang-Chi’ and ‘Eternals’, has reportedly been coldly criticized for criticizing the country’s government years ago.
But when did it all start?
While China has maintained strict censorship of film content for years, Isaac Stone Fish in his 2022 book “America Second, How America’s Elites make China Stronger” revealed how the Chinese government ordered a total rewrite of “Tomorrow Never Dies” by James Bond, whose original screenplay involved the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong. Over government objection, the producers scrapped the script and ordered a complete rewrite.
Bond’s change marked a turning point in Sino-American censorship, with demand for changes becoming a norm.
But are things always the same? It seems that a wind of change has swept through Hollywood, with many films deciding to go against Beijing’s appeasement when it comes to releasing movies in China. Tom Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick” star, which is easily one of the biggest grossing trailers of its 2019 trailer, has removed the Taiwanese and Japanese flags from Cruise’s jacket – soothing Beijing. However, once investor Tencent TCEHY dropped out, the symbol was reinstated on Maverick’s signature jacket.
Following the change, Paramount executives no longer expected a China release. A similar move was made by Disney and Pixar, who were asked by China to remove a brief gay kissing scene from “Lightyear.” Disney declined the cut. Similarly, Sony faced criticism in China when Chinese regulators asked them to cut or minimize the appearance of the Statue of Liberty in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” The studio reportedly refused, making it the third big-budget film in recent years not to be released in China.
Sony has sacrificed a lot of money, giving up millions in additional revenue by resisting Chinese censorship. Chinese censorship demanding the removal of the iconic Statue of Liberty, so Sony would be allowed to screen in China, also illustrated how aggressive Chinese bullying of the American film industry had become.
But not anymore
Industry experts are of the opinion that China’s influence has receded, mainly because the Chinese film market is no longer what it used to be. In recent months, movie studios have begun to rethink their strategies, with Chris Fenton, former president of DMG Entertainment and author of the book “Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion-Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, and American Business”, stating that there is a 100% change in how Hollywood views Chinese censorship.
According to reports, China no longer guarantees big revenue, and while in 2020 it may have been the biggest film market in the world, the favor has once again turned to the United States. Theaters in the United States are opening in full swing after COVID, even as China maintains a strict “zero COVID” policy.
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