Hollywood Kowtows to China

The Diplomat’s Cain Nunns highlights the growing relationship between , which is eager to tap into China’s fast-growing movie market, and Beijing, which wants to project its own version of the China narrative abroad and sees joint productions with Western filmmakers as an effective means to do so:

Critics claim that studios will be pressured to produce works that depict China in a sympathetic light, a fear prompted by China’s strict controls over film importation, distribution and production, along with the rebuffing of recent WTO rulings to allow foreign distribution and expand a 20-a-year cap on foreign movies.

“They made it very clear in their last congress meeting that the overriding theme would be projecting an image overseas that they want projected, while Hollywood’s No.1 concern has always been the bottom line,” says Michael Berry, a lecturer of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara.

“U.S. producers are taking an ultra-conservative route, and self-censorship is happening at a very early stage. In concept development there’s already an understanding of what will fly in China, and that gets concentrated by the time it gets to a screenplay.

And what flies in China today isn’t very much.

Foreign studios have faced an uphill battle for years in China, which does not allow Western films to be distributed directly to theaters despite a 2009 ruling by the that it must open its market. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that will announce plans to open a production studio in Shanghai as part of a joint venture with two Chinese government-backed media companies:

The DreamWorks Animation studio will tap as partners Media Group, one of China’s largest television broadcasters, and China Media Capital, according to one of the people familiar with the situation. DreamWorks’ Chinese partners were identified earlier in a report by the Financial Times.

Negotiations on the film dispute have been an uphill struggle for the U.S., which has had very little bargaining power with China.

“The U.S. doesn’t have the will to do anything to retaliate,” said Stanley Rosen, an expert on Chinese films and a professor of political science at the University of Southern California. “Hollywood still thinks China is the only real expanding market in the world and doesn’t want to lose out if and when China opens up.”

See also previous CDT coverage of , the Hollywood studio which came under heavy fire last year for shooting in ’s prefecture, near the site of activist ’s illegal .