The American movie theater industry is largely in the hands of a small number of companies. Half the movie screens in America are controlled by only four companies, Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Carmike.
AMC is the second largest theater chain in the country and it owns around 22 percent of the movie theater screens in the country. And it has been sold to China’s Dalian Wanda Group.
Aside from the usual economic impact of such a move, Dalian Wanda Group is now in the position of controlling what movies are shown in American theaters.
With control over nearly a quarter of the country’s screens, more in major cities, AMC/Dalian Wanda Group can dictate content to theaters.
The sale alone isn’t news, it happened last year, but Dalian Wanda Group is not stopping there. It plans to invest 10 billion in the American movie industry and it is looking at co-productions with American studios. In the old days there would be talk of a monopoly, but politicians have long since learned to ignore monopoly issues when it comes to Hollywood.
So what exactly is the Dalian Wanda Group? Its chairman Wang Jianlin is a prominent member of the Communist Party and is closely tied to the regime. The AMC filing even lists Jianlin’s role as a deputy to the 17th Congress National Congress of the Communist Party of China Congress. It avoids however listing the Communist part of that.
Meanwhile Chinese Communist censors are already overseeing many American films at the production and even the script stage, with the acceptance of censorship being the only way to make it through the red silk curtain.
When “Kung Fu Panda 3” kicks its way into China’s theaters in 2016, the country’s vigilant film censors will find no nasty surprises. After all, they have already dropped in to monitor the movie at the DreamWorks Animation campus here. And the story line, production art and other creative elements have met their approval.
Co-productions like “Kung Fu Panda 3” draw close monitoring by the censors at every step. Scripts are submitted in advance. Representatives of S.A.R.F.T., according to Mr. Cohen and others, may be present on the set to guard against any deviation.
At the top of S.A.R.F.T. is Cai Fuchao, a recent member of the Communist Party Central Committee. In a previous municipal post in Beijing, he was widely reported to have policed Web sites for banned material with the help of 10,000 volunteers, and to have joined in a roundup of a million illegally published books in 2004.
The irony is that Hollywood leftists once protested anti-Communist censorship, but are now voluntarily accepting Communist censorship.
Steven Soderbergh, whose film “Contagion” was shot partly in Hong Kong, said the participation of China’s censors simply added to the chorus of input that surrounds every big-budget filmmaker.
“I’m not morally offended or outraged,” Mr. Soderbergh said. “It’s fascinating to listen to people’s interpretations of your story.”
And a little moral relativism and greed from James Cameron.
Do you consider that the same as Chinese censorship?
You’ve got a little more choice in it. It’s not as draconian. But I can’t be judgmental about another culture’s process. I don’t think that’s healthy.
Did you talk to other filmmakers – your peers – about Chinese censorship?
No. I’m not interested in their reality. My reality is that I’ve made two films in the last 15 years that both have been resounding successes here, and this is an important market for me. And so I’m going to do what’s necessary to continue having this be an important market for my films. And I’m going to play by the rules that are internal to this market.