“Django” Re-Chained in China

The Wall Street Journal reports that the award-winning Django Unchained was halted during opening screenings on Thursday:

Like a town marshal determined to nip trouble in the bud, China’s main film distributor rode into the country’s movie theaters on Thursday and took out Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” before it could get its gun out of its holster.

Django,” the story of an American slave-turned-bounty hunter who cuts a bloody swath through the antebellum South in an attempt to free his wife, was set to premiere in China Thursday morning. But it was pulled at the last minute after China Film Group, the film’s government-controlled importer, issued a notice instructing theaters to stop showing it.

[…]The movie had already begun showing in some places when the orders arrived. One Chinese fan of Mr. Tarantino’s, 27-year-old photographer Xue Yutao, said he had just sat down to watch a 10:15 a.m. showing of “Django” when the lights suddenly came on.

“About a minute after the film started, several people in suits came in and the film stopped,” he said, adding that the theater apologized and offered them refunds. “At first we were shocked and didn’t know what to do, but then we all laughed at how ridiculous it was.”

Whether or not screenings will resume in China is uncertain. The Guardian tells of official and speculated reasons why the film was pulled from theaters, and the adjustments already made to prepare for China’s tight media regulations:

Media authorities claimed the Quentin Tarantino film, scheduled for release on Thursday, had been postponed for “technical reasons”, but unofficial news websites reported that the real reason was a scene showing full-frontal male nudity.

[…]Tarantino, Django Unchained’s director, had already reined in the movie’s gore for the Chinese market, retouching footage to tone down the colour and bloodshed.

[…]Many online commenters were perplexed by the cancellations because the film had passed China’s notoriously opaque pre-screening censorship process. Censors’ “cutting hands are fiercer than that of a slaveowner, insistent on making Django a eunuch”, wrote one, according to Agence France Presse.

Off Beat China translates netizen commentary showing frustrated suspicion that the film was pulled due to nudity:

One netizen 桃桃林林小淘淘 commented: “Some people don’t have balls, so they cannot tolerate the thought that other people have. I guess that all penis scenes will be cut before the movie is allowed to be shown again.” Netizen imomad thought the same: “Everyone at the censor body is a Taijian (royal servants in China’s history who need to be castrated before taking the job). They don’t have, so others’ must be cut. Or maybe they are intimidated by Django’s size because their own have shrunk due to overuse.” Another netizen 影评老大爷暗夜骑士 commented: “In this hypocritical country, the corrupt and the rich can have group sex parties, and yet the ordinary people aren’t allowed to see a penis.”

Even Hu Xijin, chief editor of mouthpiece Global Times, thought it was a stupid move: “The showing of Django Unchained was stopped abruptly. The action itself does more harm to the country than a few uncut ‘harmful scenes.’ China’s current system lacks people who dare to speak out the truth on sensitive issues to prevent inappropriate policies from being made. Maybe the system doesn’t encourage such people. Absurd policies are everywhere. The government’s credibility among its people is what at cost.”

Even after being edited to satisfy Chinese censors, the film was set to run its marathon 165 minutes, unlike Cloud Atlas and Skyfall, which both saw significant portions cut before opening in China earlier this year. has been increasing efforts to reach the Chinese market by catering to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (), China’s media regulator. The Washington Times looks at Tarantino’s taming of Django (and other recent examples) to show the contradiction between Hollywood’s flaunting of free-speech ethics at home and its desire to tap into China’s burgeoning market:

“For an industry that promotes free expression and alleged liberal values to work with totalitarian government that is the antithesis of the values we hold dear as Americans is in many ways a hypocrisy,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.

“They often mask what they do with other values such as the First Amendment, but if indeed they are working with China’s censors, then obviously they don’t believe in those values,” said Fitton.

[…]“The censoring of content is simply ‘good business’ as far as the studios are concerned,” said Stephen Tropiano, an associate professor of screen studies at Ithaca College and author of Obscene, Indecent, Immoral and Offensive: 100+ Years of Censored, Banned, and Controversial Films.