China was the origin of the zombie apocalypse, at least in Max Brooks’ fictional account in his book World War Z. When given the option of altering or censoring his story to make it more favorable toward the communist-run nation, Brooks refused and his book was banned in China.
Executives at Paramount Pictures took a different approach to the film adaptation and edited it to remove references of the outbreak’s origins, but it still wasn’t approved for release by Chinese authorities.
The practice of censoring or editing films for China has become common practice, as Hollywood studios desperately want a share of the lucrative ticket sales in the country.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is introducing a bill in an attempt to mitigate the film industry bowing to the demands of censorship.
The “Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity, Protecting Talkies Act,” or the SCRIPT Act, would prohibit the Department of Defense (DOD) from providing assistance to any U.S. studio that censors its films for China — ranging from consulting on military subjects to the use of government-owned assets or locations.
Specifically, a U.S. film company seeking assistance from the DOD must sign a written agreement that they will not censor the film for China.
The legislation does not assume that studios will necessarily comply with the agreement, as it takes into consideration their recent track record of releasing films in China.
U.S. studios are also required to submit a list of recent films that have been submitted to Chinese officials for screening, which are analyzed to determine if any “content was altered in response to, or in anticipation of, a request by an official of the Government of the People’s Republic of China or the Chinese Communist Party.”
If any recent films were censored, then the DOD is restricted from assisting the production studio.
Companies would be prohibited from co-producing the film with China-based studios, which are under the censorship restrictions put in place by the Chinese government, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
According to The New York Times, prior to 2013, China had helped finance few of the highest-grossing films worldwide — only 13 between 1997 and 2013.
But in the five years that followed, the country helped finance 41 of the highest-grossing films worldwide.
Hollywood eagerly jumped on board with the partnership with Chinese studios, as it was an opportunity to expand revenues among a growing audience in the world’s most populous country.
While there’s not a requirement for U.S. studios to partner with Chinese companies — unlike businesses in other industries seeking to make a profit in China — such partnerships helped Hollywood avoid the limit on non-Chinese films in the country.
But like other businesses operating in China, partnerships between film studios have served the advantage of Chinese companies, which have learned the craft directly from Hollywood experts throughout the five year period between 2013 and 2018.
In the past few years, though, Hollywood has seen a shrinking share of the Chinese box office, as more Chinese-made films have begun to dominate their ticket sales.
Last year, eight out of the top ten highest-grossing films in the country were made in China, with the first U.S. film on the list — a spinoff of the Fast and Furious franchise — ranking eighth.
In 2015, Furious 7 of the same franchise was on the top of the Chinese box office.
“For too long, Hollywood has been complicit in China’s censorship and propaganda in the name of bigger profits,” said Cruz in a press release. “The SCRIPT Act will serve as a wakeup call by forcing Hollywood studios to choose between the assistance they need from the American government and the dollars they want from China.”
In the 2012 remake of Red Dawn, producers notoriously spent a million dollars editing the film to make the invading army North Korean, not Chinese as they had originally filmed it, even though the movie was never accepted for screening in China.
With Hollywood’s share of profits already shrinking in the country, Cruz’s bill aims to be the final incentive that studios may need to end censorship of even the slightest criticism of the communist regime.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.