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Hollywood Doesn't Need You Anymore

Justin Stark

Posted on January 9, 2020 04:49

1 user

Don't expect to be reading subtitles for Chinese movies in theaters anytime soon. But do expect to see more Chinese actors, product placement, and overall positive depiction of China.

China and Hollywood have had a rocky 35-year relationship. It all started in 1994 when the release of True Lies, Speed, and The Lion King proved mutually beneficial. China Film earned 60% of its yearly income and theater attendance grew 70% that year. This was the first sign that Chinese audiences loved Hollywood movies and Hollywood knew the potential of breaking into China’s quickly growing market. Although both parties have the same goals, one side holds all the power to which the other is quick to obey.

China made their first major soft power move in 1997 when Disney dared distribute the film Kundun, a Dalai Lama film, a man who Chinese officials view as a separatist slave-owner. All Disney business in China stopped overnight; products were taken off selves and The Disney Channel was taken off the air. This conflict caused Disney to apologize along with a promise to expand its brand in China in part by starting negotiations for Disney’s Shanghai Resort.

From that point on, Studios were careful to abide by Chinese regulator demands. All seven major studios now have offices in China making Chinese content. Why wouldn’t they? The market is impossible to ignore now with the world’s largest population, most households with a TV and most cinema screens. The Chinese market has grown 30% annually in the past 6 years and box office revenues rose 48.7% in 2015 alone. Hollywood needs to keep this relationship on good terms.

Studios will make any changes necessary to please Chinese regulators, even if it fundamentally changes the film. Disney was careful to de-Tibet-ize Doctor Strange along with cutting a character from Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End that Chinese regulators thought was a racial stereotype. Studios are starting to make creative decisions with the Chinese market in mind and are willing to attempt to get import status on films at any cost. Even if the film is poorly received or financially unsuccessful, the market is too big to not at least hear what Chinese regulators have to say.

More importantly, Hollywood is giving its industry to China through its co-production system where Chinese and foreign studios work together on projects. As Chinese film producer, Peter Shiao put it, “There is a great desire for Chinese filmmakers and marketing staff to learn from Hollywood. To work side by side with international partners to learn skills and knowledge is very attractive.” The 3 highest-grossing movies in China are recent domestic films. 

I can't blame Hollywood for following the money. However, I find it troubling how eager these studios are to support China's soft power play. You'll never see any negative depictions of China in movies even if the film isn't for the Chinese audience. As their domestic industry increases, Hollywood’s presence shrinks and the result is desperate pandering. Hollywood, you were used. You don't have to leave China but stop playing their game or you'll slowly lose your domestic audience.

Justin Stark

Posted on January 9, 2020 04:49

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