Relativity Media, the studio behind films such as The Social Network, has come under heavy fire for shooting in Shandong’s Linyi prefecture, near the site of activist Chen Guangcheng’s illegal house arrest. From Relativity’s press release, which touts the firm’s close connections with local officials:
The hilarious comedy, 21 and Over, stars an up-and-coming cast including Miles Teller (Footloose), Justin Chon (The Twilight Saga), Skylar Astin (Taking Woodstock) and Sarah Wright (The House Bunny). The script was written and directed by successful comedy writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, whose writing credits include The Hangover ….
… In addition to previous footage shot in Seattle, Washington, filming locations include Linyi, a city in the south of Shandong province. Principal photography on scenes in China began shooting in Linyi on October 26, 2011.
Party Secretary of Linyi Municipal Committee of the Chinese Party of Communism (CPC), Zhang Shajun, whose position is directly above the Mayor, said “Linyi is a beautiful city and we welcome international filmmakers to come to Linyi to make beautiful worldwide films, and particularly welcome my good friend Ryan Kavanaugh and his great company Relativity to be shooting in our historic city. We promise to provide the best service possible in order to help make the movie successful worldwide.”
This will mark the first of many projects that Relativity plans to shoot and do post-production work on in China.
Relativity has declined to comment further [see update below] except to say that shooting in Linyi is already over, while two of the film’s stars have tweeted about their return to the US. With the studio’s announcement of plans for future projects in China, however, and the Linyi authorities’ evident eagerness to host them, this seems unlikely to mark the end of the episode.
Gillian Wong reported criticism of the shoot for The Associated Press:
“I hope Relativity Media will learn more about the real Linyi, about Chen Guangcheng, and see that what is currently happening in Dongshigu village is what is really ‘amazing’,” said Nanjing-based activist He Peirong in an interview.
“Especially at this time, when every day there are people trying to visit Chen Guangcheng, people who have been robbed and beaten, I express deep regret to see such remarks whitewashing the city of Linyi,” she said ….
Human Rights Watch senior Asia researcher Nicholas Bequelin said it was puzzling that Relativity appeared comfortable cozying up with the city’s political leadership.
“They seem to be eager to assume this role of being a prop in Linyi’s propaganda campaign to cast itself as a civilized municipality that promotes culture when the reality is that it is not only holding one of China’s most prominent human rights defenders, but going to extraordinary lengths to persecute him,” Bequelin said.
Bequelin was also interviewed for film site TheWrap, saying that “picking Linyi as a film location is probably not a good idea, but signing a deal with a person who is directly responsible for one of most egregious and cruel abuses of a human rights defender in China is really beyond the pale.”
See also Charles Custer’s open letter to Relativity Media at China Geeks, and a call to arms by Artists Speak Out, including contact information for studio executives and the film’s stars.
Meanwhile, attempts to visit Chen Guangcheng continue. Two reports include accounts of visitors’ motives for travelling to Dongshigu in the face of violence, detention, robbery and dire professional consequences. From NPR’s Louisa Lim:
One person who recently made the trip is one of China’s hottest young authors, Murong Xuecun, a 37-year-old whose real name is Hao Qun. It’s estimated that more than 5 million people read his first book, Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu, and he has more than 1 million followers on Weibo, China’s most popular Twitter-like service ….
In a speech that he was stopped from delivering after winning a Chinese literature prize last year, Murong wrote: “I am not a class enemy, I am not a troublemaker, nor an overthrower of governments. I am just a citizen who makes suggestions.”
He admits he had thought of visiting Chen Guangcheng for a long time but was scared to take the step. When asked why he eventually did so, he says, “What happened to him could happen to anyone. His treatment is my treatment. So visiting him is like visiting myself.”
Lim’s report describes the role of microblogging in human rights campaigns more generally, including the case of Yang Jinde. Yang claims to have been starved, burned and partially paralysed, blinded and deafened at a police dog training centre in Henan, as police attempted to forcibly extract a confession from him. Authorities have denied these accusations: see a Henan Daily report translated by Roland Soong at EastSouthWestNorth.
The South China Morning Post also explained activists’ motivations and experiences in visiting Dongshigu:
Activist He Peirong, who has been roughed up during five visits over the past year, described her determination as “a battle of wills” with the local authorities.
“I want to show that Chen Guangcheng has not been forgotten and he is not alone,” she said. “His lack of freedom represents everyone’s lack of freedom and what is happening to him could happen to any of us ….”
Former Xinhua journalist Shi Yu, who tried to visit Chen earlier this month, said he was “filled with fear” when he was hooded and bundled into a car, before being dragged into a room and repeatedly beaten.
Shi, who was detained for nearly 20 hours, resigned from his job under pressure after his ordeal was publicised.
“Chen and his family are putting up with a lot more than us,” he said.
Update: Relativity Media has issued a brief statement. From TheWrap:
“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment. We stand by that commitment and we are proud of our growing business relationships in China, through our partnership with Sky Land, its strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution Company. As a company, we believe deeply that expanding trade and business ties with our counterparts in China and elsewhere can result in positive outcomes.”