In 1997, Tri-Star Pictures released a movie starring Brad Pitt named “Seven Years in Tibet” about an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China's takeover of Tibet.
Good lord, look at that smile. Certified panty-dropper.
Later that same year, Martin Scorsese released “Kundan” that detailed the Dalai Lama as he dealt with Chinese oppression. For the youngsters out there who may not know it, Hollywood and liberals in general had a very different opinion on China back in those days. “Free Tibet” was a common rally cry for your garden variety movie star to showcase their activism without really having to do too much. Taking Hollywood’s lead, "Free Tibet" student groups popped up on colleges and high schools across the nation.
This, of course, was before Hollywood realized there was a potential ton of money to be made off a growing Chinese economy. Michael Bay’s 2014 “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (a terrible film) was largely set in China. It premiered in China rather than the U.S. The movie would go on to become the highest grossing film in China’s history at that time by hauling in $222 million in ticket sales over the first two weeks after its premiere. While ticket sales were continuing to free fall in the US, China looked to be a great way for failing studios to find new life and new revenue.
If you’re 25 years of age or younger, you’d be forgiven for not knowing there even was a time where “Free Tibet” was a common slogan. I can’t remember the last time that I heard a celebrity even use the phrase. Now, Hollywood censors itself and edits movies whenever the Chinese Communist Party tells them to do so.
For the upcoming Top Gun 2, the Japanese and Taiwanese flags were removed from Maverick’s jacket so as not to offend the CCP.
Disney’s Mulan live action remake was filmed in Xinjiang province and the films final credits thank propaganda departments in Xinjiang and the public security bureau of Turpan where the Chinese government has been accused of human right violations against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities.
John Cena released a groveling apology video (in Mandarin even) after he made the “mistake” of calling Taiwan a “country”.
As you can see, Hollywood has been a total China simp over the past few years.
So it was with some interest that I started reading an article in the Hollywood Reporter titled “From Deal Frenzy to Decoupling: Is the China-Hollywood Romance Officially Over?” The Hollywood Reporter is a trade magazine for the entertainment industry that has been around since the 1930’s and articles generally reflect ideas that have been growing in popularity and are becoming the standard pattern for how the industry operates. If they were writing this article, then clearly there was some trouble in paradise.
From the article:
“Amid a new climate of direct geopolitical rivalry with China, many analysts believe the U.S. studios will be lucky if they can retain the foothold they once had there, let alone make any meaningful progress toward expanding market access or growing revenue.”
Translation? “We ain’t making all that sweet Chinese cash like we thought we would.”
The article points out multiple areas where this is happening.
- In 2019, (the last pre-pandemic year of business normalcy) Hollywood studio’s collective revenue fell by almost 3% - the first time that has happened in almost 20 years.
- John Cena’s apology did not save the Fast and Furious 9. It finished with less than half of what the previous Fast and Furious movie made in 2017.
- Disney’s “Nomadland” was canceled across China despite their best attempts to placate the CCP when the film’s director whom grew up in China was found to have made anti-CCP comments.
- In late 2020, The Walt Disney Co. lost an option to expand its Hong Kong theme park after local authorities opted not to renew an agreement.
- A U.S. China film trade agreement that expired in 2017 has never been meaningfully renegotiated nor has China continued to further open its markets to American film companies.
- As streaming continues to grow in popularity and American companies like Disney transition away from theater releases China forbids any foreign ownership of any video platform – effectively blocking these companies unless Chinese law changes.
Besides the financial option not panning out like they hoped, there is also the very real blow back that is beginning to happen as more Americans simply dislike China and don’t want Hollywood co-operating with them. Last September, Judd Apatow criticized the U.S. film industry and said that “China has bought our silence” on human right abuses. A Pew Research Center survey from this year found that 67% of Americans feel “cold” toward China – much higher than the 2018 level of 46%. 9 out of 10 Americans consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner. 48% think limiting China’s power and influence should be a top U.S. foreign policy goal. There isn’t a whole lot of upside for American studios to look like they kowtow to the CCP.
How long before the CCP overplays its hand by further shutting out American studios and studios realize that China is the enemy? When that happens will we start to see movies showing China in a bad light again? C’mon, Hollywood. I’m all in for a “Seven Years in Xinjiang Province” showing Uighers in concentration camps.
Let’s hope American studios start showing the world just what the CCP is really like.