The remake of the hit 1984 film “Red Dawn” has been remade. It seems Hollywood was worried about choosing a politically incorrect—and financially risky—bad guy.
The bad guys in the original were Soviet and Cuban paratroopers invading a weakened, hollowed-out America. In the original “Red Dawn”, the invading army’s advance into the heart of America is stymied by a guerrilla force made up largely of teenagers hiding out in the wooded mountain areas of Colorado. They call themselves “The Wolverines” after their high school mascot. Most of the Wolverines are killed but not before they repulse and reverse the communist invaders—and rescue America.
The updated version of the film, which was ready for distribution in 2010, substituted Chinese troops for the Soviets. But that worried MGM execs, who didn’t want to jeopardize future movie deals in China’s massive market. So MGM ordered the film to be radically redone in post-production, taking what The Los Angeles Times calls “the highly unusual” and “extraordinary step of digitally altering a film to excise bad guys from the communist nation lest the leadership in Beijing be offended.”
The result, according to published reports, is that most references to China have been replaced with North Korea. The MGM self-censors have gone so far as “digitally erasing Chinese flags and military symbols.” According to The Times, “There’s no known precedent for changing the nationality of an entire group of characters.”
All of this happened without Beijing “uttering a word of official protest,” according to The Times, which notes that we may be witnessing the beginning of a trend. The video game “Homefront” originally was set around a Chinese invasion of the United States, but “for business reasons, publisher THQ changed the occupying forces to North Korea.”
“Potential distributors are nervous about becoming associated with the finished film, concerned that doing so would harm their ability to do business with the rising Asian superpower,” The Times reports. MGM hopes to cash in on the Chinese market with future films in the James Bond and Hobbit franchises, according to The Times.
There’s more at work here, however, than the studio’s understandable desire to maximize profits. Artistic freedom and artistic integrity are also at stake—or perhaps better said, were at stake. Moreover, it all has the whiff of a kind of appeasement.
Think about the perverse irony here: The People’s Republic of China—the land where government censors control the Internet, government agents write the news, government bureaus approve religious activity, government decrees determine how many children a family can have—gets an American media conglomerate to rewrite, revise and rework a piece of fiction so as not to cause offense. The whole episode must make the PRC’s rulers laugh—and their subjects wonder why Americans don’t treasure the First Amendment.