But last year, China moved past Japan as the second biggest movie market in the world—second only to the United States. And industry experts believe the Chinese box office will eclipse America’s within the next five to seven years. Given such economic realities, it’s no surprise that American moviemakers are increasingly being forced to think through the calculus of marketing their wares in that country, which may mean adding, subtracting or changing content in an effort to appeal to Chinese movie fans … as well as the Chinese government.
Iron Man 3, for instance, included four extra minutes of scenes featuring Chinese actors in the version released there. And while moviegoers there largely reacted negatively to the clumsily bolted-on scene, it demonstrates how seriously Hollywood is trying to take the Chinese market these days.
In a similar vein, last year’s remake of Red Dawn initially featured Chinese invaders. But it was deemed that casting Chinese as an evil, invading enemy would be an insult to the country’s moviegoers. In postproduction, the villains (and their insignia) were changed to reflect North Korean aggressors instead of Chinese.
With additions and changes like these happening more and more frequently, some are also concerned that movies with explicitly Christian themes may require censoring to meet China’s stringent requirements for distribution. Entertainment litigation attorney Dariush Adli told Fox News:
“As much as American filmmakers want their freedom of expression, it comes down to money. The film industry is a business, and with China set to be the number one in the film market in the near future, Hollywood needs to look out for themselves. Films will continue to be censored according to Chinese guidelines and even created according to these rules. All foreign films, dealing with anything from religion to gambling, have to be screened and pass the test of China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). This means that many studio productions are modified or refused completely. Until rules and regulations are changed on SARFT’s end, Christian films will always have a hard time passing Chinese censorship.”
Entertainment attorney Mathew Alderson, who’s based in Beijing, agrees. “Christianity in China has long has been associated with Western imperialism and the authorities regard U.S. evangelism, in particular, with some suspicion,” he told Fox News. “Religious matters are handled by the State Administration of Religious Affairs and the involvement of that authority would be likely if a film were to touch on religious matters.”
That said, along with Christianity’s quietly growing influence in China have come reports of a growing demand for Christian-themed films. And Alderson believes there may eventually be a bigger space for such content if those themes are dealt with sensitively. “According to Niall Ferguson, the author of Six Killer Apps, Christianity is growing faster in China than in any other country and there are now more Bibles being printed in China than anywhere else in world,” he said. “Thus an emerging Christian influence in Chinese filmmaking is possible, although it is likely to be subtle and indirect.”