Is China exerting an undue influence on Hollywood films?
As it seeks to grab an ever-larger share of the global movie market, Hollywood has been keeping foreign cultures in mind. Studios now regularly cast actors or tweak titles to make sure filmgoers from Mexico City to Moscow feel at home when they sit down to watch one of their movies.
But no country has ruled the American film business’ consciousness lately as much as China.
In its attempt to woo audiences in the Asian nation — now the largest filmgoing market outside the U.S. — studios have added scenes ingratiating to the Chinese while also excising anything that might be deemed offensive by the country's censors (including Chinese baddies).
As I and colleague Jonathan Landreth report in a story in today’s Times, the instances are many and diverse.
Among the examples:
— MGM, the studio behind the upcoming remake of the 1984 action movie "Red Dawn," digitally altered the invaders attacking the U.S. to make them North Koreans instead of Chinese, even though they were written and shot as Chinese.
— In Columbia Pictures' disaster movie "2012," the White House chief of staff extols the Chinese as visionaries after an ark built by the country's scientists saves civilization. The scene caused some in the West to roll their eyes, though it garnered ovations in Shanghai.
— For its new film “Iron Man 3,” Marvel is shooting in China and working with Chinese interests to add “a local flavor [that] will enhance the appeal and relevance of our characters in China's fast-growing film marketplace."
— When aliens besiege Earth in Universal Pictures' new action film "Battleship," they attack, of all cities, Hong Kong. Washington then credits Chinese authorities with identifying the invaders.
Experts view these instances as an unprecedented, shaping not only exports but what we see at home. The result, they say, is a generation of Western filmgoers that will basically get only a positive, sanitized view of Chinese in their films.
"I don't think the average U.S. filmgoer is hugely aware of all of these small decisions," said USC professor Stanley Rosen, who runs the school’s East Asian Studies center. "But subliminally, it can start to have an effect."
Click through for a fuller exploration of the complicated influence of China on American movies, and weigh in with your comments below.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Hong Kong comes under attack in "Battleship." Credit: Universal Pictures.