Oct 10, 2019

Hollywood's cave to China on censorship

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While the U.S. reckons with the fact that China's market power can stymie free speech after the NBA's firestorm, Hollywood — America's premier cultural exporter —  has long willingly bent to Chinese censorship to rake in profits.

Why it matters: China is set to become the world's biggest movie market in 2020, and with its 1.4 billion citizens, it won't relinquish that title anytime soon. That means it's key for Hollywood studios to do all they can to ensure that their tentpoles can pass the standards of the country's strict censors.

The big picture: The country's rampant censorship makes things difficult for foreign films. Beyond unsurprising restrictions on graphic nudity, sex and violence, China's censors can balk at anything from men wearing earrings to ghosts.

Perhaps the most extreme example was the 2018 decision to not allow Disney's "Christopher Robin" to be released, purportedly because Chinese President Xi Jinping's resemblance to Winnie the Pooh had become a joke among activists who resisted the country's Communist regime.

  • Censors also blocked the release of 2013's "World War Z," amplifying the film's relative financial disappointment for its studio, Paramount. Theories for its ban range from a reference to the film's zombie outbreak starting in China to a Chinese shadow ban on its leading man, Brad Pitt, for starring in "Seven Years in Tibet" in 1997.
  • 2012's "Red Dawn" saw its entire original plot, which featured China invading America to reclaim its debt, rewritten after filming to feature North Korea as its enemy instead — and still couldn't get a Chinese release.

Many American films do get released, but only with copious cuts to please the censors. While these usually involve slicing scenes of violence or sex, they often involve more politically-minded edits.

The bottom line: Despite the handwringing over China's economic ability to suppress Americans' freedom of speech, Hollywood film studios have willingly ceded their artistry to China's censors for years — on issues big and small — in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

Go deeper: China's vise grip on corporate America

Go deeper

Updated 33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Updates: George Floyd protests nationwide

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued for a seventh day across the U.S., with President Trump threatening on Monday to deploy the military if the unrest continues.

The latest: Virginia's Arlington County Police Department said in a statement it withdrew officers from D.C. Monday night after being "put in a compromising position" after they were seen assisting military police and park rangers who used tear gas on peaceful protesters so Trump could walk to St John’s Episcopal Church, near the White House.

1 hour ago - Technology

Civil rights leaders blast Facebook after meeting with Zuckerberg

Screenshot of an image some Facebook employees used as part of their virtual walkout on Monday.

A trio of civil rights leaders issued a blistering statement Monday following a meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives to discuss the social network's decision to leave up comments from President Trump they say amount to calls for violence and voter suppression.

Why it matters: While Twitter has flagged two of the president's Tweets, one for being potentially misleading about mail-in ballot procedures and another for glorifying violence, Facebook has left those and other posts up, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying he doesn't want to be the "arbiter of truth."

3 hours ago - Technology

Cisco, Sony postpone events amid continued protests

Screenshot: Axios (via YouTube)

Cisco said Monday night that it is postponing the online version of Cisco Live, its major customer event, amid the ongoing protests that have followed the killing of George Floyd.

Why it matters: Cisco joins Sony, Electronic Arts and Google in delaying tech events planned for this week.