Hollywood and China are developing a relationship that may come to define much of the mainstream motion picture industry in the future. Here, our ComiConverse editorial page sounds the alarm at some disturbing trends that should concern fans, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum.
Why Hollywood Needs To Cease Grovelling To China
Ghostbusters, the 2016 edition, it was revealed by The Hollywood Reporter, was not released in China. The decision to ban the film’s release was explained in reference to China’s official censorship guidelines, which technically prohibit movies that “promote cults or superstition”. This is a country whose official film release guidelines also ban content that references time-travel, Brad Pitt, reincarnation and the 2D (but not the 3D) version of Avatar. Those familiar with the workings of the Chinese government in such matters know better.
Such arcane regulations are often invoked by Chinese officials in order to punish Western production houses that don’t sufficiently kowtow to Chinese wishes. If Melissa McCarthy and her Ghostbusting team had taken a flight to battle the supernatural on the Bund in Shanghai or in scenic Hong Kong, does anyone really believe the film’s themes would have triggered the ban?
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Such awkward excursions have become too commonplace in modern cinema. The most egregious example from recent times was the whoring out of the Transformers plot in 2014. In that sad scenario, the once-reveared shell of Optimus Prime brings the Autobots to Hong Kong, where a series of bizarre events take place, generally aimed at showering the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with false glory. In one particularly painful episode, what appears to be a mall security guard picks up a phone and calls… wait for it… the President of China, who in turn orders some of China’s shiny new stealth fighters to defend Hong Kong and help save the day.
The 2014 Transformers tragedy may have been one of the most egregious and damaging moments for Hollywood’s credibility, but it was definitely not the first or the last.
Who could forget the smart, attractive and beautiful Chinese that helped command and defend the international space station at the beginning of 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence?
Lest we forget, the Chinese also our saved our precious Matt Damon in The Martian, by supplying the desperately needed supply rocket when NASA mysteriously blew up its own hastily readied launch vehicle.
Chinese involvements in Hollywood story arcs might seem benign, if they weren’t specifically designed to boost China’s nationalist identity. The Chinese military dazzled us in Transformers, the genius of its citizens and its space program was on full display in The Martian. Could these stories have been made just as well, if not better without these plot inclusions?
None entirely crippled the plot lines of their respective films; in the case of Transformers that would hardly have been possible. Yet the disturbing trend continues.
Access to the enormous Chinese market gives Chinese officials enormous leverage over Hollywood studios and to date they have not been shy about using it.
Whatever policies are held-up as a justification for bans, like the one imposed on Ghostbusters, China’s government knows very well that they ring completely hollow. Chinese citizens can obtain bootlegged DVD copies of any Western movie on the street corners of Nanjing or Shanghai with little trouble and at a fraction of the cost of seeing the film one of China’s fancy new movie houses. Such bans serve only to punish Western film studios that won’t play ball.
Anyone who has been to see Chinese cinema knows the blatant commercialization and paper-thin plots that define those films. Chinese movies contain more dropped-plots than Season 6 of Game of Thrones. It is these qualities that creep more and more into Western cinema when these kinds of quid-pro-quo agreements take place, to the despair of movie fans throughout the Western world.
As China’s middle class develops and democratic freedoms increase, fans there will be able to demand fewer restrictions on the Western films they have access to.
In the end, it is the quality of those films that serve as a draw for hundreds of millions of Chinese movie fans; quality that is bleeding away with every trip our heroic robots and astronauts make to the far east.
Debates over the modification of stories and films continue to rage fiercely here in North America, but such arguments always centre around respectable themes like creative freedom and social justice. The favours being demanded of Western studios by Chinese officials have nothing so noble in mind. At best, such Chinese demands are ethically questionable and at worst they are simply blackmail.
Like all blackmail, it is unlikely to stop unless Hollywood takes a stand.
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