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China v Hollywood – The Almighty Yuan

What’s more important: free speech or Chinese money?

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How far is America willing to take political correctness and refrain from saying or doing anything that might offend someone, whether here in the United States or elsewhere in the world? For Hollywood, that answer would be pretty far.

Not only do movie studios have to worry about losing viewers in the United States, but now China is gaining influence over what can and can’t be said on the silver screen. With China opening up its large population to the foreign film market, Hollywood is worried that offending the Asian superpower could end up costing them a fortune in lost ticket sales.

Now, in an effort to prevent upsetting the Chinese government, many Tinsel Town studios make sure their films do not have any themes or content on Tibet, human rights issues, or other topics that Beijing might find upsetting, according to PEN America in an article republished from Radio Free Asia.

PEN, whose website claims it stands “at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide,” said film content is altered, even for American viewers, and occasionally studios give Chinese audiences an even more censored version. In fact, the news site claims that sometimes the Chinese are invited to sets as advisers, to make sure the filmmakers are not “tripping the censor’s wires.”

In the article “Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing,” PEN said the studios may alter their decisions on everything from plot and dialogue to casting and sets “based on a desire to avoid antagonizing Chinese officials who control a film’s access to the booming Chinese market.”

Seven Years in Tibet, a 1997 film starring Brad Pitt, would not see the light of day in modern Hollywood, according to Emily Jashinsky, the cultural editor at The Federalist, who told RFA’s Tibetan Service in an interview that it “is a great example of a film that would never be made in today’s Hollywood, and this is because everybody in the industry is absolutely petrified of being blacklisted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”

Tibet has been a controversial topic for around 50 years – the Himalayan region declared independence in 1913, but was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China a few decades later, in 1951. Today, China still claims ownership of the territory, but the issue is a tense one. The movie Seven Years in Tibet depicts a biographical story of a traveler to the region during its years of independence. Jashinsky added:

“Hollywood would be terrified even if they made that movie just for viewing in the United States and elsewhere, and not to be shown in China.”

The editor claimed any movies that have a sympathetic bent toward Tibet are “politically against what the CCP wants their narrative to be.”

Should Hollywood screenwriters be subject to this kind of censorship pressure from the U.S. government, or any other?

Senator Ted Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said China is pushing its narrative by “coercing Americans into self-censorship — especially in Hollywood.” He has proposed legislation, labeling it a “wake-up call”:

“That’s why I have introduced the SCRIPT Act, which would cut off Hollywood studios from assistance they receive from the U.S. Government if those studios censor their films for screening in China.”

Just as with anything else, it seems, money makes the world go ‘round and is the true motivation behind Hollywood’s self-censorship. It isn’t concern for the Chinese people or government, and it definitely isn’t about making sure stories are told realistically while keeping the creative juices flowing productively. It’s about the almighty dollar — or yuan.

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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