I don’t do well with hypocrisy, particularly when it involves U.S. corporations posturing themselves as woke and self-righteous Hollywood “progressives” so phony baloney the FDA should fine and censure them. I’m talking about the deafening silence regarding Warner Bros.’ decision to acquiesce to China’s censors and eliminate six seconds of gay dialogue in the new Harry Potter movie just released in China.
Where’s Disney CEO Bob Chapek?
Where are all the Disney employees who say the company has an obligation to advocate for gay rights?
Where’s Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and those in the Oscars 2022 audience who roared with delight when Sykes declared, “For all you people in Florida, we’re going to have a gay night.”
“Gay. Gay. Gay. Gay,” the co-hosts declared as they pranced around to squeals of approval from the audience.
The Florida reference was to the Sunshine State’s recently signed “Parental Rights in Education Act.” Critics say the legislation is homophobic and refer to it as the ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill,’ while the bill’s defenders say the legislation is intended to prevent “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Disney’s Chapek has attacked the Florida bill and has publicly criticized Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
As reported by Variety and other trade publications, Warner Bros. agreed to remove dialogue from “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” alluding to the romantic past between male characters Dumbledore and Grindelwald. “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling revealed Dumbledore was gay in 2009, but the dialogue in the latest film was the first explicit reference to the character’s sexuality. The censored dialogue lines: “Because I was in love with you” and “the summer Gellert and I fell in love.”
Warner Bros. issued this statement to Variety: “As a studio, we’re committed to safeguarding the integrity of every film we release, and that extends to circumstances that necessitate making nuanced cuts in order to respond sensitively (emphasis mine) to a variety of in-market factors. Our hope is to release our features worldwide as released by their creators but historically we have faced small edits made in local markets.”
For those whose knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss me as “right wing” and influenced by FOX News, allow me to direct you to this blistering report from PEN International about the undue influence China has on global filmmaking. PEN’s mission is to promote free speech in the U.S. and around the world, and the organization argues that even seemingly small edits ordered by China’s censors are a very big deal.
As U.S. film studios compete for the opportunity to access Chinese audiences, many are making difficult and troubling compromises on free expression: changing the content of films intended for international—including American—audiences; engaging in self-censorship; agreeing to provide a censored version of a movie for screening in China; and in some instances directly inviting Chinese government censors onto their film sets to advise them on how to avoid tripping the censors’ wires. These concessions to the power of the Chinese market have happened mostly quietly, with little attention and, often, little debate. Steadily, a new set of mores has taken hold in Hollywood, one in which appeasing Chinese government investors and gatekeepers has simply become a way of doing business.
PEN warns that acquiescing to China’s censorship demands makes Hollywood complicit in the country’s Communist government repression of critics and dissidents.
We have developed this report on Beijing’s influence over Hollywood because we believe this influence cannot be ethically decoupled from the Chinese government’s practices of suppressing freedom of expression at home. Beijing enforces one of the world’s most restrictive censorship systems, in which films and other creative endeavors are subject to a strict process of pre-publication review by the State. China’s media is similarly under state control, with little-to-no space for editorial independence. Vast categories of protected expression are criminalized, with peaceful dissidents serving years-long jail terms for their critical speech.
Independent civil society does not exist within mainland China, and the country’s Great Firewall represents the world’s most advanced and expansive system of digital censorship. In the areas of Tibet and Xinjiang, the repression of civil rights is breathtakingly severe; in Xinjiang especially, it is no exaggeration to say that millions of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are in detention camps or jail because the government has essentially criminalized their cultural and religious expression in the region. Yet, China’s own government-controlled domestic press either refuses to cover this systemic violation of human rights, or instead propagandistically and falsely reframes it as an exercise in “vocational education.”
China has been engaged in a years-long campaign to combat what the government deems a “masculinity crisis” in entertainment and media promoting “sissies” and “indecent culture.” The Communist government under Xi Jinping, China’s leader for life, means business. Last September it ordered the country’s gaming companies to eliminate “obscene and violent content and those breeding unhealthy tendencies, such as money-worship and effeminacy.”
One doesn’t need a Harvard MBA to understand why major Hollywood studios, all of them owned by publicly traded companies, so willingly obey China’s dictates. Despite government-ordered cinema closures because of the pandemic, China in 2020 added 6,000 new screens in 2020, bringing its nationwide total to 75,581. By comparison, the U.S. in 2020 had only 40,998 screens.
China has made great strides reducing its dependency on foreign films and influence. In 2020, for the first time, the top 10 films in China were local movies. Foreign films accounted for just 16 percent of China’s total national box office, down from 36 percent in 2019. According to the PEN report, the Chinese government limits the screening of foreign films to about 34 a year, and determines release dates, how much advertising a film receives, and the number of theaters in which it can screen.
It might be tempting to argue that showing U.S. films in an authoritarian country is an opportunity to promote Western ideals, but Wendy Su, an associate professor of media and cultural studies at UC Riverside and the author of “China’s Encounter With Global Hollywood,” told the Atlantic the only motivation is “the potential for greater profits.”
Disney last year came under heavy criticism for filming parts of its film “Mulan” in Xinjiang province where human rights advocates allege that government abuses are carried out on the Uyghur people. The film’s credits thanked the region’s security forces, presumably responsible for the alleged human rights abuses. Disney claimed a local contractor was responsible for the shoutout.
Disney cannot deny culpability silencing company critics in the U.S. and suppressing damning stories about prominent people. In March 2020, award-winning ABC News journalist David Wright was suspended and demoted after he was surreptitiously filmed complaining about Disney using its “Good Morning America” franchise to cross promote its Disney characters and being unfair in its coverage of then President Trump. Disney owns the ABC network.
“Now you can’t watch ‘Good Morning America’ without there being a Disney princess or a Marvel Avenger appearing,” Wright said. “It’s all self-promotional.”
A leaked video last year of Amy Robach, co-host of the ABC News show 20/20, featured her claiming she had details years ago about Jeffrey Epstein’s proclivities, including his connections to Prince Andrew and former President Bill Clinton, but claimed ABC News killed the story because of pressure from Buckingham Palace. ABC News president James Goldston reportedly dined with members of the Royal Family.
Wright’s ABC News colleagues didn’t come to his defense, save for former anchor Ted Kopell and a former network producer. After the video of her leaked, Robach folded like an accordion, insisting that ABC News never killed her scoop and insisted the video caught her in “a private moment of frustration.”
Despite owning a major news network, Disney has shown a willingness to crush any publication or person that reports negatively about the company. After the Los Angeles Times reported about Disney’s heavy-handed dealings with the city of Anaheim, the company banned the publication from press screenings of its movies.
Hollywood creatives also shamelessly look to protect China’s public image. In 1993, actor Richard Gere was banned from the Oscars for several years after he protested China’s occupation of Tibet and its “horrendous, horrendous, human rights situation” while presenting an award for best art direction. Gere’s career was so irreparably harmed that only independent film studios would subsequently cast the once A-list actor.
In the greater scheme of things, China’s cultural regard for gays as being “deviant” is a considerably bigger threat to gay rights and freedoms than Florida’s education bill, which incidentally was passed by a Democratically elected legislature, many of whose Republican members received considerable funding from Disney. Underscoring how America’s establishment media seeks to distract from the broader issues threatening the country, the Washington Post today posted a story headlined, “DeSantis takes on Disney in a culture war with national implications.”
No, the real culture war is with China. Thanks to Hollywood, America has already surrendered.
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