Will China Change Movies’ Messages?


 What does the Chinese movie market have to do with the content of movies made in America? Until fairly recently, the answer might have been, “Not much.”

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.”

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Scott Jamison More than 1 year ago

--I find it a bit odd that you didn't mention the biggest change that appealing to the Chinese market made in Iron Man 3--the Mandarin, in the comic books a specifically Chinese villain, is made into a vaguely South Asian front for a white villain.

Rebecca Greer More than 1 year ago

--@Alyson: I completely agree. I find it a huge double standard, the way many Christians get upset about situations like the one described in this post, yet talk about how media with perceived "objectionable content" should be banned in America. This is especially true in the book world. Entertainment Weekly recently had a short list of popular dystopian themed books, and included information about which books have been "frequently challenged or banned" and why. These included "The Hunger Games" for being "anti family," "Fahrenheit 451" for containing depictions of Bible burning, and "1984" for being "pro communist;" all these books were also banned for violence, profanity, and sexual content. I believe that we have no right to be upset about Christianity being censored in China until we stop trying to get books banned in schools and libraries, often without even reading them first. Seriously, can anyone read "The Hunger Games" and claim it's anti family, or "1984" and claim it's pro communist?

Alyson Scott More than 1 year ago

--I find it a little amusing that some Christians are unhappy about China's censorship against Christianity even though they would be thrilled if questionable content in movies was censored.

Katarina Rorstrom More than 1 year ago

--Seems like the trademark of modern Christianity. It's influence is dropping and loosing influence significantly in one way, yet steadily growing in others. Who knows what could happen next?