December 27, 2016

Chinese Influence in Hollywood

David Wingens ‘19

China’s role in the American film industry has been slowly growing to a point where it is now impossible to make a blockbuster without taking it into consideration. This has led many movies to pander to the Chinese government and people.
China’s box office is huge and is growing rapidly. In fact, it is projected to soon overtake the American box office and become the world’s largest film market.
One indicator of China’s love of movies is its 29,000 movie theaters, a number expected to grow to 50,000 in a matter of years. America, by comparison, only has 40,000 theaters and is certainly robust, but is not growing at a rate anywhere close to that of China.
All of this means that if a movie is capable of reaching Chinese theaters, it is likely to make considerably more money for the production company. That said, the amount of movies the Chinese government allows into their country is limited, as their government is extremely controlling.
China is known for censoring the internet and blocking any media that they do not agree with. For that reason, along with disdain for western culture, they do not allow many American movies into their country. Recently, however, some movies that have made it through have become huge hits such as “Furious 7,” which made nearly two and a half billion dollars in China, or “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which made a similarly large haul in Chinese box offices.
The Chinese film industry only allows a quota of Hollywood films in the Chinese market, making it hyper-competitive for American companies wishing to get their film into China.
One way around this is taking the approach that Marvel took with “Iron Man 3.” They added an additional scene just for Chinese viewers that featured a Chinese actor and was shot in China. They could then say that the film was partly produced in China with a Chinese company. Therefore, “Iron Man 3” was not included in the quota.
The other issue here is that blockbuster films need to be screened by the Chinese government before they are allowed to be one of the accepted foreign films. This means that today’s movies are far less likely to have a Chinese villain or insult the Chinese government and far more likely to subtly complement the Chinese or make quick note about how something Chinese is remarkable.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” had the most obvious attempts at targeting Chinese audiences. At several points in the film, there was product placement for Chinese companies and advertisements.
This also came to prominence this November with the release of Marvel’s “Doctor Strange.”  The movie is based on a comic book character of the same name, which prominently features a Tibetan man called The Ancient One who is Doctor Strange’s mentor and teacher.
There is currently great tension between China and Tibet, as Tibet wishes to become a free nation, but China will not recognize it. During production of “Doctor Strange,” it was decided that it was not possible to include a Tibetan as one of the film’s heroes without offending the Chinese and jeopardizing the film’s box office success. As a result, Tilda Swinton, a white English woman, was cast in the role, albeit with some controversy, but the film’s success was preserved.

The Chinese film industry shows no sign of slowing, so whether anyone likes it or not, Chinese influence on American movies is here to stay.

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