- Post-pandemic, China may overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest box office. China’s rapid ascent to box-office dominance has presented many commercial and political challenges for Hollywood, with some fearing that studios and filmmakers are increasingly kowtowing to Communist Party censors. (The Economist)
- In 2016, Disney cast Tilda Swinton to play the Ancient One in their film adaptation of “Doctor Strange.” But fans of the comic were shocked since the character is traditionally Tibetan. So why did Disney cast a white woman? Film executives feared a Tibetan character would get the movie banned in China.
- China boasts one of the world’s largest box offices. Both Disney and Sony’s Columbia Studios make over 10% of their revenue from the Asian market. In 2019, China's box office brought in $9.7bn, second only to the US at $11.1bn. And it may overtake the American market this year. While many theaters in the US remain closed, the industry has widely reopened in China.
- With China’s movie market on the rise, American film studios are scrambling to pass China’s censor guidelines. This can be as trivial as editing out a dead body, like in the reboot of “RoboCop.” Or as controversial as showing a map that both ignores Tibet and shows China owning contested areas of the South China Sea, like in the animated film “Abominable.” Either way, a lot is riding on these films getting in front of Chinese audiences.
- But Hollywood may be taking a big risk here. Many American companies and celebrities that have tailored their business model to comply with the People's Republic of China have ended up in hot water. When it was revealed that Google was working with Beijing to create a search engine that abided censorship guidelines, over 1,400 Google employees signed a letter against working on the project. And just look at the public backlash against "King James" for saying the Houston Rockets' general manager was ill-informed for supporting the Hong Kong protestors. (Lebron had just been in China for a lucrative brand exhibition tour.) See "Controversy Surrounding Beijing and China Show No Signs of Fading."
- So why are these businesses getting it wrong? One thing they all have in common: a progressive-minded leadership and an equally progressive fan base. For decades their default assumption is that anything that fosters cultural globalism--think of Mark Zuckerberg's "connecting billions" dream--is always positive. And along the way, there is nothing wrong, if necessary, about tailoring the message to fit the local sensitivities of different ways of life.
- But today's emerging generation of progressive globalists rejects this sort of panglossian relativism. Most blue-zone consumers are highly alert--even more than conservatives--to the taint of human rights violations. Apparently, it never occurred to Nike that Millennials would care that their athleisure gear was being fabricated in Uighur concentration camps. See "Both Parties Want America to Take "Active" Role in World Affairs."
- I think Ricky Gervais called out the paradigm best at the Golden Globes when he joked that Apple’s “The Morning Show” was a “superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China.”