China's box office is projected to soon surpass the U.S. as the largest film market in the world.
- "Access to that market can make or break the success of a major Hollywood film," said James Tager, the author of a recent PEN America report about how the Chinese government censors the U.S. film industry, and how the industry responds by self-censoring.
- But the Chinese government tightly controls access to the market, excluding films that include content it dislikes, and blacklisting individual actors or film studios that have previously participated in activities the Chinese Communist Party doesn't like.
Movies also have an almost unmatched ability to instill widespread public sympathy for vulnerable groups and to prolong remembrance of crimes against humanity, such as the Rwandan genocide, depicted in "Hotel Rwanda."
The result: Film studios now go out of their way to ensure their movies avoid topics or depictions of China that might fall foul of China's censors.
- But the last time a major Hollywood studio made a movie that presented a vulnerable group as the victim of Chinese government aggression was in 1997 with "Seven Years in Tibet" starring Brad Pitt.
- The Chinese government responded by slapping a five-year ban on Columbia TriStar, the production company that made the film — a response that cast a chill over the U.S. movie industry.
- "The most significant effect of this censorship and self-censorship is completely invisible, because it involves the movies that are never made," said Tager. "What major Hollywood studio would make a movie about what is happening in Xinjiang, with the internment of over a million Muslims?"
- “For 10 years, you haven’t seen any bad Chinese guys,” said Schuyler Moore, a partner at Greenberg Glusker. “If I saw a script with an anti-Chinese theme, I would advise my client that that film would never be released in China.”