China has been using its market to influence businesses abroad and shape narratives around how the world perceives them. It is widely known that China has managed to built an extensive propaganda machine to construct a rather mythical image of itself around the world. However, a little known story is how industries such as Hollywood are themselves kneeling before China in order to access its huge market.
In recent times, Hollywood has been extremely careful to not offend the sensibilities of the tyrannical Communist regime in China in order to secure its business interests. While the American movie industry has been extremely vocal regarding former president Donald Trump, it has given Communist China a free pass over its atrocious treatment of its minorities, especially Uyghur Muslims.
Hollywood goes out of its way to pander to Chinese censorship in order to reap the financial rewards of it. Blockbusters from Captain America: Civil War to Disney movies, the movies incorporated Chinese cultural symbols and brands in order to endear themselves to the audience, and more significantly, the Chinese government.
One such instance that sparked a severe controversy centered around the movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Chinese poster of the movie minimized the presence of British-Nigerian actor John Boyega, who played a Stormtrooper in the movie, allegedly because Chinese are not too fond of people of his race.
Apart from such gestures, there is significant collaboration on the horizon between Hollywood and Chinese studios as well. There are partnerships in place between Universal and Legendary, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Wanda Media Group.
In 2015, Warner Bros Entertainment and China Media Capital (CMC) came together to form a joint venture, Flagship Entertainment Group Limited, in order to develop and produce Chinese films.
Warner Bros said in a statement, “The new entity will combine the expertise of Hollywood’s largest studio with China’s preeminent investment and operational platform dedicated to media and entertainment. Flagship Entertainment’s goal is to capitalize on the rapidly growing market for premium content globally, particularly in China, and the increasing demand for high-quality Chinese-language movies around the world.”
With growing financial influence of China, it is inevitable that it will affect Hollywood in other areas as well. Richard Gere, the hugely popular actor, blames China for his rejection by Hollywood. “There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him,'” he told Hollywood Reporter in 2017.
“I recently had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with me because it would upset the Chinese,” he added. Richard Gere has been very vocal regarding his support for Tibet and is renowned for his outspoken criticism of China’s human rights violations.
Richard Gere had condemned China’s “horrendous, horrendous human rights situation” at the Academy Awards in 1993. He also happens to be a long time friend of the Dalai Lama, a figure that the Communist Party of China has awarded top public enemy status, figuratively speaking.
“There was something I was going to do with a Chinese director, and two weeks before we were going to shoot, he called saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it,'” Gere recalled during the interview. “We had a secret phone call on a protected line. If I had worked with this director, he, his family would never have been allowed to leave the country ever again, and he would never work.”
He is not the only one to have suffered the wrath of the Chinese Government. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, all were made to suffer punitive action due to frivolous reasons. Lady Gaga is banned from entering China because she met the Dalai Lama when the latter visited Indianapolis.
Katy Perry wore a sunflower dress during a concern in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan and was awarded with an indefinite ban on entering China because sunflowers are considered a symbol of Taiwanese independence and democracy. Maroon 5’s concern in China was cancelled because a member of the banned sent Dalai Lama a birthday greeting. Such examples abound. And all of this has only made Hollywood more eager to reach compromises with Chinese censorship.
Martha Bayles noted in her column for The Atlantic, “Beijing has a very clear idea of how a film industry should operate—namely, as an essential part of the effort to bring public opinion in alignment with the party’s ideological worldview. To that end, Beijing has been using Hollywood’s insatiable need for investment, and its vaulting ambition to reach a potential audience of 1.4 billion people, to draw it into China’s orbit.”
One guide to American movie producers, cited by Bayles in her column, said, “China and its one-party government currently lack a film law (though as Part 5 of this guide outlines, one is coming) that would set clear guidelines and standards. As such, it’s difficult to know whether or not a proposed project may fall afoul of the censors, whose whimsy seems to be determined in large part by the higher ranks of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—an organization for which projecting the image of a stable society is considered paramount to preserving its hold on power.”
The effects of Chinese financial influence is more than evident from the fate reserved for the NBA. Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in favour of the Hong Kong protesters following which the NBA had to rush in to disassociate itself from the comments.
The Chinese Basketball Association declared suspension of all cooperation with Houston Rockets while the team was urged by China’s Consulate General in Houston to “clarify and immediately correct the mistakes.”
CCTV 5, a top sports broadcaster, announced that the team’s events would be suspended on television. And Tencent (TCEHY) Sports stated that it would take similar action regarding live streaming of the games and reporting news about the team. Subsequently, Daryl Morey was forced to issue a groveling apology.
Such capitulation awaits Hollywood as well now that Chinese influence has entered the equation. In many ways, the capitulation has already begun to occur. But it’s only a matter of time when the capitulation turns into a walk of shame in front of its domestic audience.