The Red Pen

American film companies bow to Chinese censorship

Katzenberg (AP)
January 15, 2013

The New York Times today reported on the censorship American film studios are willing to accept in order to gain access to the growing and lucrative Chinese film market.

The lure of access to China’s fast-growing film market — now the world’s second largest, behind that of the United States — is entangling studios and moviemakers with the state censors of a country in which American notions of free expression simply do not apply. …

Studios are seeking out official co-productions, in which a Chinese company works with an American studio in financing and creating a film, because they can bypass the Chinese quota system and bring their distributors a 43 percent share of ticket sales, rather than the 25 percent allotted to foreign-made films.

Co-productions like 'Kung Fu Panda 3" draw close monitoring by the censors at every step. Scripts are submitted in advance. Representatives of [the Chinese censorship board known as] S.A.R.F.T., according to Mr. Cohen and others, may be present on the set to guard against any deviation. And there is an unofficial expectation that the government’s approved version of the film will be seen both in China and elsewhere, though in practice it is not unusual for co-productions to slip through the system with differing versions, one for China, one for elsewhere in the world.

The Chinese official at the head of S.A.R.F.T. has plenty of experience cracking down on free expression:

At the top of S.A.R.F.T. is Cai Fuchao, a recent member of the Communist Party Central Committee. In a previous municipal post in Beijing, he was widely reported to have policed Web sites for banned material with the help of 10,000 volunteers, and to have joined in a roundup of a million illegally published books in 2004.

The effect extends beyond China’s shores: as the Washington Free Beacon noted last year, China’s censorship regime resulted in the Red Dawn remake being rejiggered in post-production to feature North Korean, rather than Chinese, villains:

Sometime between the start of production and the remake’s release, which was delayed due to the production studio’s bankruptcy, the villains changed nationality. No longer would the invading Communist horde originate from China, which has the largest military in the world, a sophisticated cyber warfare department, and is widely recognized as a strategic competitor of the United States.

The American West Coast was now to be invaded and occupied indefinitely by North Korea, the starvation-prone Hermit Kingdom that can barely keep the lights on in Pyongyang and has trouble launching missiles.

One should not expect to hear much in the way of complaints from Democrats, as DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg fills their campaign coffers. Katzenberg’s company was recently the subject of a Securities Exchange Commission investigation for trying to bribe its way into the Chinese market:

The Hollywood studio run by one of President Obama’s biggest donors is under investigation by the Securities Exchange Commission for bribing Chinese officials to secure exclusive film rights in the communist country—rights secured in secretive negotiations that included Vice President Joe Biden.

The SEC is investigating at least five Hollywood studios—including 20th Century Fox, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation—for allegedly making illegal payments to Chinese officials, Reuters reported Tuesday.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is the largest donor to the Obama reelection super PAC Priorities USA.

As the New York Times noted in its story on Chinese censorship, DreamWorks is likely well accustomed to bowing before the censor board. With the help of Vice President Joe Biden the company recently opened an animation studio in China:

DreamWorks Animation SKG will help build a $350 million studio in Shanghai called the Oriental DreamWorks studio. DreamWorks will own 45 percent of the studio, and the other 55 percent will be owned by 'companies controlled by the Shanghai government.