Disney Meets Roadblocks to Releasing Movies in China

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Three films including ‘Shang-Chi’ and ‘Mulan’ have been embroiled in political controversies. Marvel’s ‘Eternal’ is the latest.

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The Marvel film “Eternal” is set to be released in early November, but its release in China is uncertain, distribution executives said, after its Chinese director, Oscar winner Chloe Zhao, made recent comments about the country in 2013. But he was reprimanded.

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It follows the unexpected plot twist for “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, the first Marvel Studios epic to feature a major Asian superhero, but also weeks after its record-setting global premiere. The Chinese release is yet to be secured. Trouble began when ‘Mulan’, which released in 2020, was rattled by revelations that it had sent film crews to a controversial province, with audiences complaining about historical inaccuracies.

The production of all three films began at a time when the box-office potential in China was immense. Now they have become evidence of heightened tensions between the industry and Chinese censors, as well as an indication of how much the Chinese response to Western entertainment has changed over the past year.

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Doing business in China means never shying away from Chinese politics, a reality recent events show Disney and the wider entertainment industry are learning again as the world’s theatrical market opens up as COVID-19 rages on. The country went from being largely closed to Western entertainment in the 1990s to the industry’s most important international market.

Hollywood officials are now looking at new investigations into Western influence by Chinese audiences, biases toward local releases by Chinese officials and an industrywide crackdown overseen by President Xi Jinping that potentially jeopardized any Hollywood exports. With the criticism of the country attached to it. .

Disney has submitted unreleased films to Chinese authorities for review, but has yet to receive word on several titles, including “Eternal,” according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Disney title joins several other films hanging in the balance in China. “Dune” and “No Time to Die”, the James Bond installments, released in October, are some of the major Hollywood films released recently. Months passed without word on other 2021 blockbusters, including Disney’s “Black Widow,” which has spilled over to Chinese pirate websites.

Other major releases that appealed to Chinese audiences, including “Space Jam: A New Legacy” and “Snake Eyes”, have not been released. According to distribution officials, the months-old titles are yet to be censored. And some of the films that have been released in China, such as “Free Guy” and “Cruella,” were cleared with only two or three days’ notice to studios, according to officials working in the country. . Distribution executives said China also recently reshuffled its film bureau, further pushing the decisions.

Authorities in recent months blocked Western imports during the week of national holidays, a common practice that allows Chinese officials to ensure that viewers watch domestic movies on Communist Party historical dates. Over the weekend of October 1, which included China’s National Day, the Chinese war epic “The Battle at Lake Changjin” grossed over $200 million in its debut – the volume of the No. 1 American film, “Venom: Let There Be”. more than double of . Massacre,” in his home market.

Disney and other studios stand to lose potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in box-office earnings, as well as Chinese fans, who may lose interest in the Marvel superhero series if they don’t watch movies including “Shang-Chi” and “Shang-Chi.” Can “eternal.”

Disney remains the most invested studio in China. After years of lobbying, the company opened Shanghai Disney Resort in 2016, a $5.5 billion theme-park attraction that was one of the first to reopen as the COVID-19 pandemic dented Disney’s park revenue. granted because its US locations remained closed. Its 2019 Marvel blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” remains the highest-grossing American film in Chinese cinemas.

“Shang-Chi” was supposed to offer something for everyone: Hollywood-level spectacle, with a Chinese-led cast. While it has done enough to become the highest-grossing release since the pandemic in the US, it is a different story in China, where it has yet to release.

Although Chinese censors never comment on a decision, Hollywood insiders have a theory as to why: Online investigators in China recently discovered comments made in 2017 by its lead actor, Simu Liu, When he described China as a country where people die of hunger.

A representative for Mr. Liu did not respond to a request for comment.

Such nationalism has infiltrated China’s own entertainment industry, where directors are routinely hired to pose for propaganda pictures and asked to publicly declare that they act as executives working in China. Support the state accordingly. Chinese actors with dual citizenship in other countries have recently renounced it, pledging support to China alone. Such was the case with Hong Kong actor Nicholas Tse, who recently renounced his Canadian citizenship. Some A-list stars who shy away from the leadership of the Communist Party have been stripped of roles and scrubbed from the Internet.

Nationalism explains a similar controversy that surrounded “Eternal” director Chloe Zhao during his Oscar campaign to direct “Nomadland” last year. Ms. Zhao, the daughter of a Chinese industrialist who studied in the US, was once declared a “pride of China” by state media when she began to see success in the American film industry.

Ms Zhao gave an interview in 2013 in which she said that China is a place of “lies everywhere”, prompting state officials to largely steer clear of the Chinese Internet. His final win at the Oscars – “Nomadland” won Best Picture and he won Best Director – was not covered by the Chinese media, and news of the victory was not available on the Chinese Internet.

A representative for Ms Zhao did not respond to a request for comment.

Disney and other studios face a difficult proposition when casting films, as Chinese critics have broadened the statute of limitations to what they consider offensive. Mr. Liu made his remarks two years before he was cast as Shang-Chi, while he was working in TV. Ms. Zhao’s remarks were made when she was not a director but a little-known independent filmmaker working with Hollywood’s biggest studios.

Erich Schwartzel [email protected] Feather

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