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Hollywood's China Problem: The Self-Censorship Has Market Roots

Professor of Financial Economics and Part-time Value Investor, Transfin.
Oct 30, 2019 9:11 AM 2 min read

Hollywood's China problem: The recent instances of self-censorship are rooted in market access.


Hollywood Hour: Last month, DreamWorks released Abominable, an animated movie about a young girl and a Yeti’s journey to Mount Everest. It was no Shrek or Madagascar. But Abominable made headlines nonetheless.
All because of one scene in the movie where a map of Asia included the infamous nine-dash line. This line – a vague, ambiguous demarcation – is the basis of China’s territorial claim over most of the South China Sea (SCS). The Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia – parties to the SCS conflict – either cut the scene, called for the movie’s boycott, or banned it altogether.
For many countries, Abominable’s scene was...Abominable. For DreamWorks, it was probably just good business. China’s movie-going market is expected to soon surpass even America’s, and only 34 foreign films are given distribution rights in China each year. Thus, the high competition and lucrative rewards mean that Hollywood has resorted to self-censorship on China to please Beijing.
World War Z changed the location of a zombie outbreak from China to North Korea. Doctor Strange changed the ethnicity of a Tibetan character to a white one. In Transformers: Age of Extinction, the Chinese military saves the day. In The Martian, it is the Chinese space agency that does that.
China's Reach:
Such Sino-washing and Sino-pleasing can have significant consequences, given the cultural importance of Hollywood. Think of this – the last film sympathetic towards Tibet was 1997’s Kundun. How severe was China’s reaction then? Disney CEO Michael Eisner flew to Beijing to personally apologise to the Communist Party leadership.



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