Chinese censorship, one of the strictest systems of the world, has its influence in censoring content in Hollywood and Bollywood increased manifold in recent years. Following are some notable examples of its censoring as well as the promotion of its disputed claims.
Crux of the Matter
2011 Bollywood movie Rockstar starring Ranbir Kapoor had “Free Tibet” flags in the background of the song ‘Sadda Haq’. Discussions regarding Tibet and its independence have always been averted by China as it annexed Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama then took exile in India in 1959, after being forced to escape Tibet after China used violence to suppress pro-independence moves.
After direction from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), director Imtiaz Ali blurred the “Free Tibet” flags from the song, which drew criticism from Tibetans in exile in India.
PEN America is an organization promoting freedom of speech across the world. It recently released a report of Chinese ‘influence’ on the Hollywood, claiming that Hollywood is “often gleefully willing to speak truth to American political power [but] conform[s] to Beijing’s film dictates”.
The phenomenon was first observed in 1997, when the movie Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt was released; the movie depicted invasion of China in Tibet and its aftermath. While the movie was immediately banned in China, director Jean Jacques Annaud later apologized in 2009, claiming that he had “never supported Tibetan independence” and always acknowledged that “Tibet is a part of Chinese territory”.
In a recent example, Marvel’s Dr. Strange had the character of a Tibetan mentor replaced. Explaining the decision, its director C. Robert Cargill said, “if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that (the character is) Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people (of China)”. Similarly, the upcoming movie Top Gun: Maverick starring Tom Cruise removed the Taiwanese flag from Cruise’s jacket over allegations of pressure from China which considers Taiwan as its territory.
Chinese censorship has also been observed in any content it deems “objectionable”. In the movie Bohemian Rhapsody based on the band ‘Queen’, scenes where lead singer Freddie Mercury discusses his homosexuality were removed in its release in China.
The phenomenon perhaps reached its climax when Dreamworks production (having Steven Spielberg as a co-founder) released Abominable in 2019. In one scene, a map was shown promoting China’s claims on the South China sea even after a UN tribunal had dismissed China’s claims in 2016. Consequently, the movie was banned in Malaysia and other countries in the South China Sea region.
Critics have cited ‘large audience’, and consequently a high revenue from China as the reasons for such incidents. US films earned $2.6 billion in China in (2019), with the movie Avengers: Endgame alone earning $614 million in China. The same was confirmed by famous actor Richard Gere, who claimed in an interview that he has been ‘boycotted’ from Hollywood, which has China as a major investor, because he supports the Tibet movement.
In China, the Government group ‘China Film Group Corporation’ (CFGC) is a regulator of the movies in the country. Incidentally, it is is also the largest film distributor in China. Moreover, only 34 foreign movies are allowed to be publicly screened in a year in China, which explains in part the competition to enter its market while maintaining cordiality with the Chinese Government.
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- PEN America – Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing
- News 18 – ‘Sadda Haq’ the new song for Free Tibet movement
- Livemint – Hollywood’s craven surrender to blatant Chinese censorship
- Vanity Fair – Richard Gere Has a Theory About Why Mainstream Hollywood Dumped Him
- BBC – Abominable: A DreamWorks movie, a map, and a huge regional row
- The New York Times – ‘Doctor Strange’ Writer Explains Casting of Tilda Swinton as Tibetan