“It is unprecedented. Major film studios have never been shy about pandering to the Chinese market.”1 Film critic Ho Siu Bun was referring to Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and the fact that the studio decided not to fold under pressure from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the trailer, a patch with Japanese and Taiwanese flags worn by the protagonist in the first Top Gun (1986) was substituted for a vague blue and red pattern.2 The Chinese government does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country and often suppresses mentions of it. Following outrage from Western audiences, the original patch was restored for the film’s release, causing a Chinese investor to drop out; the film was not released in China.3
Freedom of speech is a critically important right, which many Westerners greatly value. They properly regard censorship as a violation of that right and as the hallmark of an authoritarian regime. The CCP perpetrates some of the worst censorship in the modern world. It forces filmmakers in China (and those who wish to distribute their films there) to follow the government’s demands about what they can include in their films, and it forces Chinese people to make, sell, and watch only films approved by the government or face jail time.4
Yet, until recently, most major filmmakers in Hollywood have done little to resist CCP censorship. . . .
Click To Tweet
You might also like
1. Jack Newman and David Averre, “Top Gun Faces Being BANNED in China after Putting Taiwan Flag BACK ON Maverick’s Leather Bomber Jacket as Hollywood ‘Stops Trying to Please Chinese Censors,’” Daily Mail Online, June 1, 2022, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10875467/Top-Gun-faces-BANNED-China-Taiwan-flag-Mavericks-leather-bomber-jacket.html.
2. The patch commemorated cooperation between the United States, Japan, and Taiwan during the Vietnam War; see William Laverack, “Top Gun 2’s Taiwanese Flag Patch Signals a Major Change in Hollywood,” ScreenRant, July 23, 2022, https://screenrant.com/top-gun-maverick-taiwanese-flag-patch-impact/.
3. It is unclear whether the CCP banned the film or Paramount Pictures, knowing it was unlikely to be allowed, didn’t submit it.
4. The penalty for making five hundred or more contraband discs is up to three years in jail; see Jonathan Landreth, “China Revises Rules for Piracy Punishment,” Hollywood Reporter, April 7, 2007, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/china-revises-rules-piracy-punishment-133595/.
5. Will Ashton, “Quentin Tarantino and 8 Other Directors Who Wouldn’t or Couldn’t Change Their Movies for China,” CinemaBlend, January 22, 2020, https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2488696/quentin-tarantino-and-8-other-directors-who-wouldnt-or-couldnt-change-their-movies-for-china; Lucas Shaw, “Fearing Chinese Censors, Paramount Changes ‘World War Z’ (Exclusive),” The Wrap, March 31, 2013, https://www.thewrap.com/fearing-chinese-censors-paramount-changes-world-war-z-exclusive-83316/.
6. James Griffiths, “The Rise of the Chinese Communist Party-Approved Blockbuster,” CNN Style, October 1, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/china-movie-censorship-communist-party-intl-hnk/index.html.
7. James Tager, “Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing: The U.S. Film Industry and Chinese Government Influence,” PEN America, https://pen.org/report/made-in-hollywood-censored-by-beijing/.
8. The film was never released in China anyway, perhaps due to the censors’ dislike of the undead and violence; see Charles Nicholas Raymond, “Hollywood’s Many Chinese Controversies Explained,” ScreenRant, October 20, 2019, https://screenrant.com/hollywood-movies-china-controversy-explained/; Lexa Brenner, “Rated C for Censored: Walt Disney in China’s Pocket,” Harvard International Review, October 29, 2021, https://hir.harvard.edu/rated-c-for-censored-walt-disney-in-chinas-pocket/.
9. Brenner, “Rated C for Censored.”
10. Films coproduced with Chinese studios are exempt from this quota; see Sean O’Connor and Nicholas Armstrong, “Directed by Hollywood, Edited by China: How China’s Censorship and Influence Affect Films Worldwide,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Research Report, October 28, 2015, https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/Directed%20by%20Hollywood%20Edited%20by%20China.pdf.
12. Shirley Li, “How Hollywood Sold Out to China,” The Atlantic, September 10, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2021/09/how-hollywood-sold-out-to-china/620021/.
13. “‘Eternals’ Opens with $71M But Reviews Are Mixed,” The Independent, November 7, 2021, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/marvel-chloe-zhao-new-york-mgm-china-b1953244.html.
14. Lindsay Maizland, “The Surprising Reason Why China Is Blocking South Korean Music Videos and TV,” Vox, March 7, 2017, https://www.vox.com/latest-news/2017/3/3/14795636/china-south-korea-pop-culture-kpop-attacks-thaad.
15. “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet)—Tibet,” U.S. Department of State, accessed September 13, 2022, https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/china/tibet/.
17. Hongemi Yu, “From Kundun to Mulan: A Political Economic Case Study of Disney and China,” AsiaNetwork Exchange, Fall 2014, vol. 22; Brenner, “Rated C for Censored”; John Bleasdale, “Kundun: Scorese’s Buried Masterpiece,” Film School Rejects, March 15, 2018, https://filmschoolrejects.com/kundun-scorseses-buried-masterpiece/.
18. Oliver Good, “Change of Direction for Scorsese,” National News, October 7, 2011, https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/change-of-direction-for-scorsese-1.579760/.
19. Calum Russell, “How Martin Scorsese Was Once Banned from Visiting China,” Farout, June 30, 2021, https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/martin-scorsese-banned-from-visiting-china/.
20. Alex Ward, “The International Controversy over Disney’s Mulan, Explained,” Vox, September 9, 2020, https://www.vox.com/culture/2020/9/9/21427978/mulan-disney-controversy-explained-uighurs-xinjiang; Brenner, “Rated C for Censored.”
21. Gina Martinez, “How Woke Disney Has Bowed to China by Cutting Episode from The Simpsons That Joked about Tiananmen Square and Editing Uyghur Internment Camps Out of Mulan—But Refused to Cut Gay Kissing Scene from Lightyear,” Daily Mail, June 17, 2022, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10928517/How-woke-Disney-bowed-Chinese-censors-refused-cut-gay-kissing-scene-Lightyear.html; Amy Mackelden, “Why People Are Boycotting Disney’s Mulan,” Harper’s Bazaar, September 8, 2020, https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/film-tv/a33932607/mulan-boycott-details-liu-yifei-comments/.
22. Ilana Kaplan, “China Cancels Theatrical Release of Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’” Rolling Stone, October 19, 2019, https://www.rollingstone.com/tv-movies/tv-movie-news/china-once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-901313/.
23. Lily Wakefield, “Disney Bosses Promise Huge Increase in Queer Characters in Major Step for LGBT+ Representation,” Pink News, March 30, 2022, https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2022/03/30/disney-lgbt-meeting-dont-say-gay-florida/.
24. Patrick Brzeski, “‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,’ ‘Black Adam’ Unlikely to Be Released in China,” Hollywood Reporter, November 10, 2022,
25. Phil Hall, “Why Is China Blocking the Release of Disney’s ‘The Eternals’?” Yahoo Finance, October 11, 2021, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/why-china-blocking-release-disneys-141515735.html.
26. Laverack, “Top Gun 2’s Taiwanese Flag Patch Signals A Major Change In Hollywood”; “2022 Worldwide Box Office,” BoxOfficeMojo by IMDb Pro, accessed December 3, 2022, https://www.boxofficemojo.com/year/world/.
27. Ruairi Scott Byrne, “Spider-Man: No Way Home Banned in China after Sony Refused to Edit Pivotal Scene,” May 4, 2022, https://www.buzz.ie/movies/spiderman-no-way-home-china-26874046.
28. “2021 Worldwide Box Office,” BoxOfficeMojo by IMDb Pro, accessed September 13, 2022, https://www.buzz.ie/movies/spiderman-no-way-home-china-26874046.
29. CBC Arts, “Dark Knight Won’t Be on Big Screen in China,” CBC, December 26, 2008, https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/dark-knight-won-t-be-on-big-screen-in-china-1.740993.
30. The film was ostensibly banned “for promoting a cult” because it depicts an Epoch Times newsstand; the newspaper is critical of the CCP; see Zhou Kexin, “Doctor Strange Movie Banned in China for ‘Promoting Falun Gong,’” Bitter Winter, June 30, 2022, https://bitterwinter.org/doctor-strange-movie-banned-in-china/.