Like it or not, reliance on box office receipts from another country will have an impact on the content produced.

The global box office is more important than ever. With the pandemic ending, we’re trying to find ways to bring new money to theaters. Movies that travel around the world have never been more important. But what happens when the country where the film has to make money has a lot of laws and a vetting process? What happens when studios start changing and casting stories and characters to appease others?

Well that’s kind of where Hollywood is now with China. Until 1994, almost all films in Chinese cinemas were state-sponsored. They told stories about their history and were usually there to support the Communist Party. But in 2010, avatar received a rare release in China. This film grossed $200 million and turned heads in Hollywood. Suddenly they wanted to put every big movie in that market, but to do that they had to overcome their censorship.

In a new book called Red Carpet: Hollywood, China and the Battle for Global Dominancewrites Erich Schwartzel about how the Chinese Communist Party transformed Hollywood. Recently, Schwartzel sat down with Vox to discuss the country’s relationship with Tinseltown.

Let’s go through some of the responses in the interview and analyze what’s going on in Hollywood.

‘avatar’Recognition: 20th century fox

How does China influence Hollywood films?

One of the first things addressed is what type of content Chinese censorship hits. When Hollywood submits a film, they look for a few things. Schwarzel says

“You watch the film and a few things can happen. You can say: this is approved for publication without modification. Or, This will be approved for publication if you cut these three things. Or, it’s not approved at all, and we won’t tell you why. But you can imagine the reasons why. Obviously there are political issues that are total non-starters for this group. No studio will get into a film about the Dalai Lama or that contains any Tibetan characters or any reference to Chinese history that the authorities would rather not show their people. But there are other, less obvious concerns the party has had over time. One of them is movies that involve time travel, because a world that has time travel means there’s also a story that might be different than what the party is proposing. There was also a lot of scrutiny and, quite frankly, rejection of any homosexual element or stories involving same-sex couples or homosexual characters in films.”

If you’ve been aware of what’s happening, you’ve probably seen Disney making a ton of money in China. Marvel movies have been hugely popular there, inflating their budgets and even making Disney add scenes for the Chinese market to please them.

But not everything is rosy there. war of stars Movies don’t actually do well since the original isn’t widely distributed. And the subsequent sequels are so reminiscent of the originals that Chinese audiences found them confusing. They were amazed The Force Awakens who had so many tributes they did not connect.

‘The Force Awakens’Recognition: Lucasfilm

So how is that changing with movies?

Schwartzel says once the big bucks were involved, the stories were tweaked to ensure they could make it to China. He said:

“When the studios realized how much money there was to be made in the Chinese market, not only did they avoid politically problematic storylines, they also thought, ‘How can we maximize our revenue there or our interests?’ One thing they started doing was casting Chinese actors and actresses in these films around 2012 or 2013 X-Men movies that transformers movies. They were often cast in very small roles or cameo roles, Chinese actors and actresses very famous in their homeland but unknown in America. Then they would use those little bits to market the film in China.”

These lessons were learned early. When MGM was remade Red Dawn, they didn’t want to make Russia an invader, so they went with China. The movie was shot and almost done, but MGM realized they were going to release a new James Bond movie as well. They worried that this was taken as retaliation for making China the bad guys Red Dawnwould they let China censor and ban the Bond film they need to make money from.

So what has MGM done?

Schwarzel said: “UFinally, they decide to send the finished film to a special effects company. They had to take every reference to China — every Chinese flag, every line of dialogue referring to China, every Chinese military uniform — and change it to North Korea. It cost the studio a million dollars and took a lot of overtime to get it done.

‘Red Dawn’Recognition: MGM

Where are we now?

These conversations happen all the time when films are marketed to China. Check out what Marvel had when they tried to broadcast eternal to China. Old comments by Chloé Zhao were dug up and there was a careful line for everyone to adhere to. The same happened with Simu Liu and Shang Chi, who has also made comments disparaging China in the past. Well, none of these films were released in China, which hurt both box offices in the long run (while doing well in the rest of the world).

We even saw them pulling Keanu Reeves movies a few weeks ago.

So given those sensitivities and budgets, it’ll be interesting to see how studios react and who they hire. This goes beyond content and could extend to packaging and bigger names on films in the future. There’s a lot to consider, and it’s not just about Hollywood. It’s about the US and China in general.

According to Schwarzel:

“The films have become a proxy for the broader rivalry that is developing between the US and China. I think it ultimately becomes a story of values ​​and what values ​​are being transported around the world. Hollywood films have been the global entertainment standard for a hundred years; someone once said that the movies helped transform America into an “invitational empire,” an attraction to the country and its way of life. I think China, whose turn it is to dominate for a century, wants to copy that playbook .”

All of this has led to China withdrawing the release of American films abroad. We’ll try to follow all of this as we go along.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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