A recent report released by PEN America found that an increasing number of Hollywood films are “voluntarily” censored to appease the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The report highlights China’s expansive market and billion dollar revenue stream as a key factor in this decision making. The normalization of censorship in media around the world is a growing concern in the New World Order.
CCP Values: “Social Morality” and “Cultural Unity”
The American film industry has long been known for its lack of diversity and representation – calling into question how realistic Hollywood movies actually are. With this in mind, the PEN America report speaks to another problem of self-censorship: Hollywood filmmakers are avoiding topics that go against the CCP’s core values.
When films adhere to the CCP’s social and cultural guidelines, production companies have access to a booming industry and a potential of US$8.6B in box office revenue. Just this year, the “Chinese cinema market is expected to overtake the United States [in revenue], making China the largest market in the world.”
As such, if directors would like their films to be marketable in China, they must uphold the CCP’s core ideologies. This includes protection of ‘social morality’ by avoiding LGBTQ+ representation on screen. Scenes depicting gay relationships and sexuality were completely cut out in China’s release of the 2018 autobiography of Freddie Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody.
To avoid harming ‘national interests’ there can be no negative portrayals of Beijing, nor can there be a discussion of topics such as Mongolian culture and autonomy. In Marvel’s Doctor Strange, a Tibetan monk was switched to a Celtic character to steer clear of Tibetan culture. As filmmakers feel pressure to make profit by appeasing the CCP, questions are being raised about the implications of self-censorship in film.
Soft Power Diplomacy
It all comes back to the idea of soft power diplomacy: “a society’s ability to influence others based on the appeal of its political values, culture and foreign policies, rather than through force, threats, or payment.” Media representation can impact society by informing our decisions as well as the “policies we are prepared to accept.” Therefore, altering minor plot details or making complete omissions of historical events can shape the way we interpret the world around us. Exercising soft power diplomacy is an excellent way for governments to get the public on board with policy decisions.
The U.S. is no stranger to soft power, and the way that the American government actively benefits from and exercises soft power through the film industry should be further scrutinized. It is important to recognize the dangers of persuasion and soft power employed by the American film industry.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Pentagon met with Hollywood producers to create films positively depicting the War on Terror. Similarly, as the Chinese market grows and the CCP rises in economic and political power, it is important to point out censorship which occurs in the Chinese government’s favour and is leveraged by financial gain.
In one example of soft power diplomacy, Anastasia Lin, Canada’s representative in the 2015 Miss World pageant, condemned human rights violations in China. The CCP paid US$4.8M to host the international event and promptly barred Lin from entering China due to her political statements and activism.
On the surface, instances of censorship in films and in beauty pageants seems arbitrary and harmless. However, when soft power infiltrates society by erasing memories of human rights violations, the story becomes much darker.
The Dangers of Censorship: Tiananmen Square
The dangers of what can happen when censorship is normalized can be shown in the case of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. On June 4th, 1989, Chinese soldiers and police officials opened fire into a crowd of protestors, killing hundreds to thousands of citizens, most of them students. Today, there is a “generational amnesia” in China regarding the June 4th massacre. This is attributed to widespread censorship and punishment by the CCP for speaking out about the incident.
One 26 year old woman from Shenzhen, China stated, “If you ask the millennials, I guarantee you 90 per cent of them don’t know [about Tiananmen Square].” She herself learned of the massacre while visiting Vietnam. Censorship has also been used by the CCP to cover up its most recent human rights violations, including the mistreatment of Uyghur Muslims.
Key Takeaways of the Issue of Censorship in the Media and the Film Industry
Soft power is nothing new, and many world powers utilize pop culture as a way to positively portray their government policies. Although censorship in the entertainment industry seems harmless, it is a pathway for the erasure of historical events and human rights violations.
Without stricter third party regulations in place, censorship will only worsen in Hollywood. At the very least, there should be a stronger push towards “an industry-wide commitment to public disclosures of [government] censorship requests from Beijing as well as all other governments”, as recommended by PEN America. But for now, censorship requests will continue to sell to the highest bidder: the CCP.
The Heritage Foundation Podcast “How China is Taking Control of Hollywood.” Listen here.
The South China Morning Post Article “Generational Amnesia: why China’s youth don’t talk about Tiananmen.” Read here. Share on facebook Facebook Share on twitter Twitter Share on linkedin LinkedIn