Hollywood’s Many Chinese Controversies Explained

China Mulan Abominable and South Park

A recurring dilemma for the film and TV industries in the United States is what to do about China. For years, China has been a double-edged sword for Hollywood. China is one of the biggest markets for Hollywood studios - which is why it's also a serious problem. Studios depend on Chinese audiences, which makes pleasing them a top priority, but this can be difficult to do when satisfying them causes outrage amongst Western audiences.

It's easy to see why Hollywood puts so much value in Chinese markets. Just look at the amount of success Marvel Studios has been able to achieve in China. Avengers: Endgame, for instance, made $2.798 at the worldwide box office, and $614 million of that total came from China. That's a major chunk of its box office revenue. Hollywood studios executives aren't blind to what China means to movies and TV, which means that Chinese interests is something that many feel must be kept in mind when producing films.

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Related: Iron Man 3 Was Different In China: What Scenes Were Added (& Why)?

What makes this such a complex issue is the human rights concerns with China, as well as China's history with censorship. China's government is in control of what gets shown on TV and film. If China so wishes it, scenes in a movie can be omitted, or the film can simply be banned. For example, China has been criticized for its handling of LGBT characters. References to LGBT lifestyles are generally removed before it can be released in Chinese theaters. Also, China frowns on any movie or TV that it feels contains a negative depiction of its culture or its government. This is particularly relevant now, since public opinion of China has soured in recent months over the Hong Kong protests.

South Park Was Banned In China

In early October, Comedy Central's adult animated series South Park, a show known for its crude humor, aired the episode "Band in China". The episode contained a storyline that made fun of how Hollywood executives try so hard to stay in China's good graces. The main characters try to write a script for a movie, but a Chinese guard keeps altering their work. Disney is another target of the South Park episode, as Mickey Mouse is shown trying to make sure that his employees cooperate with Chinese authorities.

As a result, China banned South Park and scrubbed all material associated with it from all forms of media. Fan pages and social media accounts were deleted, the show was removed from all streaming services, and more. Considering South Park's affinity for making offensive and controversial jabs at various real-life figures, the show's mocking of China followed by China's decision to ban it came as no surprise at all.

Apple Reportedly Told TV Shows Not To Criticize China

Apple TV plus

In November, Apple will join other major companies by launching its own streaming service, Apple TV+, which will feature original content. According to Buzz Feed, Apple has told the showrunners of its new Apple TV+ shows to refrain from including negative portrayals of China. Though it's not clear if any of its programming would have criticized China anyway or use material that would need to be censored, the general idea behind the warning is that Apple simply wants to avoid controversy. This is part of a pattern with Apple, as the company has been accused of making certain business decisions in deference to China in the past.

While some may not approve of this approach, it's not unorthodox in any way, according to what one source told Buzz Feed. A showrunner who isn't connected to Apple TV+ claims that "they all do it." The notion that networks and streaming services are quietly avoiding content that would upset China doesn't seem far-fetched at all.

Abominable Has Been Banned In Vietnam Over A Dispute With China

Abominable 2019 movie poster

Co-produced by DreamWorks and Shanghai's Pearl Studios, Abominable is an animated film about a friendship between a young Chinese girl and a Yeti. The movie follows the two as they journey through China. The film's cast consists primarily of actors and actresses of Asian descent. Early in the film, a map can be spotted which includes a U-shaped dotted line over the South China Sea. The line marks the region as Chinese territory. China recognizes the South China Sea as belonging to them based on historical reasons. All official Chinese maps include this dotted line. However, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Brunei, and an international court all dispute this claim.

Vietnamese viewers of the film were reportedly outraged by the map issue, causing Abominable to be banned from the country after being in theaters for a week. Similarly, a Philippines official called for a boycott of DreamWorks (via Bloomberg). Since Abominable was made in part for Chinese audiences, it may have been deemed necessary to use China's version of the map.

Mulan's Star Faced Backlash After Comments Over Hong Kong Protests

One of the biggest stories happening in the world right now is the Hong Kong protests. Though Hong Kong is a Chinese territory, a "one country, two systems" rule has been in place for a long time now. People of Hong Kong felt that this rule was being violated when China proposed a bill that would allow extradition back to the mainland. This ignited into a much bigger fight over democracy, with protests flaring up all over Hong Kong.

Many of these protests have brought violence and accusations of police brutality. Media outlets, government officials, and other public figures have since spoken out against China's treatment of Hong Kong, but one such celebrity, Mulan star Yiu Lifei, has expressed support for Hong Kong police on the Chinese social media site, Weibo. What followed were accusations that China has been using bots to promote the film.  Many who support the protests have called for a boycott against Mulan, since Yiu plays the lead character in the upcoming Disney remake. Yiu's comments have sparked controversy, but the actress hasn't backed off from her stance, and her position is shared by pop culture icon and martial arts movie star Jackie Chan. It remains to be seen just how much the boycotts will be able to affect Mulan's box office numbers.

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