New reports suggest that the new Brad Pitt zombie movie World War Z will be slicing and dicing … scenes that could upset the Chinese government. According to The Wrap, an exchange in which characters determine that the point of origin for the outbreak of Zombie-itis was in China has met a grisly fate.
“Normally,” The Wrap reports,
“the detail would not have merited discussion at the top echelons of the studio. But given the fast-rising prominence of the Chinese market, state censorship and the quotas for US releases, the studio advised the movie producers to drop the reference to China and cite a different country as a possible source of the pandemic, an executive with knowledge of the film told The Wrap.”
This is not the first time that film scripts have been changed in order to please the Chinese. Iron Man 3 has also been chopped for the benefit of Chinese audiences – and at least in this case, a Chinese actor was added. Red Dawn, which was slated to feature the Chinese as the US-invading baddies, was altered so that the North Koreans would drop onto American soil. The Karate Kid remake went under the scalpel, too, so that Chinese bullies wouldn’t appear quite so mean.
Chinese cash now dictates much of the content springing from domestic sources. That’s because the movie business has changed substantially. Movie blockbusters used to be made with cash garnered from foreign presales – movie distributors abroad would pay cash up front for the right to distribute big-budget movies, based on big-name stars. But with the decline of big name stars and the failure of many top budget pictures over the last ten years, foreign presales are down significantly.
China, however, is a growing market. Catering to the dictators of China is not a difficult proposition, so long as Hollywood avoids offending communism or China directly. That’s why studios like Warner, Sony, and Fox are all developing TV programming directly for China. Other start-ups now look to China for investment cash rather than American sources. Americans understand that the movie business is incredibly risky. The Chinese government has no such qualms. If they take a risk on a film and it goes south, they can always just oppress their citizens more. And the chances of them truly blowing too much money are minute. After all, they can guarantee a certain level of box office performance thanks to their ability to set up a movie monopoly inside the world’s most populous country.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is increasingly upset about Hollywood’s relationship with China. Some on the left focus on Hollywood’s shipping of jobs overseas, and bribery of Chinese officials; according to the New Yorker, the SEC was targeting five studios including Disney and DreamWorks over bribery in China. Actually, China takes bribes from the studios to show their films. So the money moves both ways. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, “Foreign films that don’t land one of the quota spots [in China] either receive a small fee to play in China – typically less than $1 million – or aren’t seen in the country at all. As a result, getting into China under the quota can translate into tens of millions of dollars more in revenue.”
The market, contrary to popular opinion, is not patriotic. Studios will seek money wherever they can, including in communist countries like China. If they can access billions of eyeballs by spending millions of dollars, they will. And if they have to cut out some pro-American message, or leverage in some pro-Chinese propaganda, they’ll do it. All in the name of cultural diversity, of course.
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