Following the hubbub surrounding “The Interview”/the allegedly North Korean launched cyberattack on Sony—which became the largest Hollywood publicity campaign of the holiday season, intentional or otherwise, successful or not—President Barack Obama said “we cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.” When Sony revised their decision to cancel the film’s premier, actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen heralded the prevailing power of freedom. For Foreign Policy, Isaac Stone Fish asks what would have happened if the film focused on China, North Korea’s longtime if uneasy ally, and an authoritarian government with far more proven agency in stifling Hollywood expression:
[…] Hollywood’s biggest worry about freedom of expression is not North Korea, or terrorist groups, or those who make anonymous threats to movie theaters. And celebrating our “freedom” over North Korea, an impoverished state of 25 million, is both sad and laughable.
The far bigger worry is self-censorship — and there’s no bigger threat here than China. The Chinese don’t hate us because they are like us, or because they are not. In fact, they don’t hate us at all. Beijing poses a major censorship threat because the ruling Chinese Communist Party is keenly sensitive to criticism and has the economic muscle to punish those in Hollywood who make films that displease it.
In other words, the bizarre series of events that caused The Interview to be briefly censored are a distraction from China, Hollywood’s biggest censorship problem.
[…] Consider what would have happened if Rogen and Franco had pitched a movie about two bumbling journalists contracted by the CIA to assassinate Chinese President Xi Jinping — another authoritarian leader who is the commander of a massive army, sits atop a massive nuclear arsenal, and poses a strategic threat to the United States.
[…] No major studio today would dare greenlight a film that would be that offensive to the Chinese Communist Party: the financial costs could be immense. A film studio that was even known to have publicly floated an idea such as this could expect to be effectively blacklisted from working with Beijing — and China is where Hollywood studios will make an increasingly large percentage of their money in coming years. […] [Source]
Beijing has also been known to leverage its economic clout for influence in the international publishing and business realms. Read more on Hollywood’s relationship with China, via CDT.