China is censoring Hollywood’s imagination

As China’s box office continues to grow and eventually eclipse the U.S. film market, Hollywood producers are bending over backwards to try to appease the Chinese government.

China’s economic carrots and sticks are putting pressure on Hollywood to produce films that might soar in the country’s box office — and avoid those that may displease Beijing.

The big picture: By censoring American blockbusters, Beijing believes it can prevent American and global audiences from imagining the Chinese Communist Party as a major threat, and from viewing the targets of China’s repression as victims worthy of sympathy.

Driving the news: Disney is set to release its highly anticipated live action remake of “Mulan” this weekend to more than 60 million subscribers on Disney+.

  • Analysts expected the film, about a young female Chinese warrior during the Han dynasty,would bring in $1 billion in global box office sales, in large part from China, though that estimate was before the pandemic.

What’s happening: China’s box office is projected to soon surpass the U.S. as the largest film market in the world.

  • “Access to that market can make or break the success of a major Hollywood film,” said James Tager, the author of a recent PEN America report about how the Chinese government censors the U.S. film industry, and how the industry responds by self-censoring.
  • But the Chinese government tightly controls access to the market, excluding films that include content it dislikes, and blacklisting individual actors or film studios that have previously participated in activities the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t like.

The result is an “epidemic of self-censorship” in Hollywood, said Aynne Kokas, assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, and author of the book Hollywood Made in China.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, author of China

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Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing

This report examines the ways in which Beijing’s censors have affected and influenced Hollywood and the global filmmaking industry. Read Article on PEN America