“One of the most dangerous plots ever instigated for the overthrow of this Government has its headquarters in Hollywood.” The year was 1945. The speaker was Rep. John E. Rankin (D-Mississippi). The forum was the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Rankin was a racist, a bigot, and an overall nasty fellow. On this, however, he was absolutely right. The only problem is that he was 70 years too early.
Of course, he was somewhat right when he spoke the words, too. Ronald Reagan was head of the Screen Actors Guild from 1947-1952, and again in 1959-1960. During that time, he watched as Communist revolutionaries infiltrated the unions, attempting to shut down the studios and turn the instruments of culture toward anti-American ideologies. They remained a vocal minority inside Hollywood, but a dangerous one.
Now, the threat is much greater. The threat remains Communist. It is no longer Russian, and it is no longer internal. The threat comes from abroad, and it comes in the form of cash.
The dirty little secret within Hollywood for the last decade has been the industry’s reliance on Chinese cash. The Chinese movie audience is the fastest growing audience in the world; Fox, Warner, Sony and Disney have developed local programming for the Chinese market. James Cameron’s Avatar — which, as an environmentalist critique of first world imperialism, you would figure the Chinese would love — earned over $200 million in country. 2012 and Transformers 2 also blew the doors off the box office in China. During 2010, move than 1,000 movie theaters opened.
During the 1990s, European markets traditionally provided the extra boost for American box office offerings. Frequently, movies with large budgets would be released to certain loss in the United States with the knowledge that the European audiences would fill in the gap, or that the movie could be licensed to different countries at premiums that would fix the balance sheet. As more and more movies began to take advantage of foreign markets, however, the market was saturated. New sources of cash had to be found.
Hollywood, like Washington, D.C., looked East.
In December, Legendary Pictures, producers of Batman Begins, Superman Returns, 300, The Dark Knight, Watchmen, The Town, and the recently-released Sucker Punch, among others, sold 3.3% of its equity to Hong Kong’s Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment. The press release from Legendary explained, “The transaction is party of an effort to explore broader partnership opportunities in China and beyond …” That’s just one case in point. I’ve personally looked at proposals from multiple companies looking to raise significant cash – in the hundreds of millions of dollars – from the Chinese government. Also in December, China Daily reported that increasing numbers of Chinese companies are looking to coopt Hollywood talent, “speeding up their internationalization and strengthening ties with their peers across the Pacific through direct investment in Hollywood, as the dream factor has seen financing from its home market drying up in recent years.”