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How Hollywood capitulated to China

How Hollywood capitulated to China

Hollywood has over the past decade increasingly capitulated to Chinese government pressure to alter and censor films. This was known to industry experts for a long time. However, PEN America, a literary and human rights group, has now published a detailed report on how the Chinese government censorship is exerting influence on Hollywood and the global filmmaking industry, posing a clear threat to free speech and artistic expression.

The report 'Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing: The US Film Industry and Chinese Government Influence,' reveals how one of the most censorious governments in the world has made its influence felt on filmmaking in the United States, subverting one of the US' most potent cultural exports.

"The Chinese Communist Party is increasingly shaping what global audiences see. While we are all well aware of the strict controls that China's government maintains over dissent, independent thought, and creativity within its own borders, the long arm of Chinese censorship—powered by vast economic incentives—has also reached deep into Hollywood, shaping perceptions, inculcating sensitivities, and reshaping the bounds of what can be shown, said, and told," observed James Tager, deputy director of free expression research and policy at PEN America and a lead author of the report.

Formed on April 19, 1922, PEN America was conceived as an acronym: Poets, Essayists, Novelists and later broadened to Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists. It does not represent an acronym now and works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet">
<p dir="ltr" lang="en">Richard Gere was buddy with Dali Llama, critical of PRC. PRC told Hollywood, sorry no movies with Gere. Gere's movie career is dead. If a movie wont sell in China, it's dead.</p>
Zara Larsson Spoke out Against China. Why Won’t Other Celebrities Do the Same?<a href="https://t.co/VhcYnTV7N4">https://t.co/VhcYnTV7N4</a>

— Doug Little ?✊ ? (@jdouglaslittle) <a href="https://twitter.com/jdouglaslittle/status/1291333836953882625?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 6, 2020</a></blockquote>
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In its report, PEN America found that the US film industry, in ways large and small, has over the past decade increasingly capitulated to Chinese government pressure to alter and censor films. Many producers and screenwriters spoke to PEN America anonymously, citing the financial and professional risks associated with any criticism of China's growing influence.

The 94-page report mentioned how studios have made content changes to films, either at the direct request of government censors or increasingly through voluntary self-censorship in order to gain or sustain access to the tightly controlled and lucrative Chinese film market. In some instances, studios have even permitted state censors on film sets or in production studios. Individual actors, directors, screenwriters, and producers who are seen to resist Chinese influence may find their own career opportunities compromised.

"The Chinese government will focus on everything that has a China component in it. Don't think that if you're doing something that's not intended for China, that's an indie film meant for a small market, that China won't notice and that it won't hurt your blockbuster film. It will. While some of these alterations may seem minor—the cutting of a Taiwanese flag here or the removal of a minor plot point there—cumulatively such censoriousness cuts against artistic and cultural freedom, silences dissenting voices and can skew the global perceptions that are shaped by powerful films," a scholar noted in the report.

The report calls on Hollywood and industry leaders to take a stand against such censorship, from Beijing as well as other censorious governments.

"Changes can be small, but they have to be viewed in the context of China's larger policies: the repression and erasure of minority cultures, the burnishing of its global image, and the reification of government or the Party and President Xi Jinping. These tropes all manifest in the instances of censorship and self-censorship documented in the report," said Tager.
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<p dir="ltr" lang="en">I was told by a producer whose name appears on major movies you would recognize, friend from time in LA, if a movie is destined to go to China before being green lit script goes to Chinese censors for approval. The great ethical and principles bastion of Hollywood <a href="https://t.co/eFSCXGqtjF">https://t.co/eFSCXGqtjF</a></p>
— Space Cowboy Balding 大老板 (@BaldingsWorld) <a href="https://twitter.com/BaldingsWorld/status/1291044063848718342?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 5, 2020</a></blockquote>
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PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel recognized that this report risks becoming political fodder at a time of rising tension between the US and China.

"That is not our intent. As the first drafts of the history of the Covid-19 pandemic are rendered, we need to ensure that the stories we tell reflect truth and unhampered creative expression, and do not bend to the dictates of any government," said Nossel.

Making specific calls for added transparency to avoid a situation where peremptory censorship is simply an unquestioned way of doing business, the report urged filmmakers to publicly disclose requests they receive to censor their work.

It also insists that Hollywood take a firmer stand to defend Chinese filmmakers who have faced serious reprisals for their work.

PEN America has previously documented literary censorship in China. In 2015, it reported on Chinese publishers' censorship of Chinese-language translations of foreign authors in the report Censorship and Conscience: Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship.

On June 4, PEN America announced the '2020 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award' would honor Chinese essayist and activist Xu Zhiyong who was detained in February for writing an essay that critiqued the leadership of China's president Xi Jinping, including his handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, and called on Xi to resign..