Once lauded as “a storytelling medium that can…convey American ideals, including free expression itself, to foreign populations around the world,” the American film industry has largely abdicated its role in exporting Western values in hopes of catering to a Chinese market that’s now vanishing. The allure of a billion new moviegoers made kowtowing to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors seem like a savvy business move, and short-term paydays made selling out seem worth it. But as China has clamped down on market access once again, Hollywood’s ordeal now serves as a cautionary tale: China has a playbook for taking over industries, and yours could be next.
In recent years, by dangling access to the world’s largest movie market, China successfully co-opted large swaths of Hollywood to export its authoritarian, anti-democratic ideology and values. Conglomerates with ties to the CCP have also snapped up American entertainment properties ranging from movie theater chains to production studios to theme parks.
There are countless examples, both subtle and sweeping, of the CCP’s success in the film industry. Paramount Pictures removed the Japanese and Taiwanese flags from Tom Cruise’s jacket in trailers for Top Gun: Maverick. Walt Disney Studios changed Iron Man’s nemesis from a Chinese-born villain to a British actor, and then added a scene in which a Chinese doctor saves the hero’s life. FilmDistrict changed the villains in their Red Dawn remake from Chinese to North Korean. Others have gone out of their way to make China the hero of their films. China’s space agency swooped in to save the day for NASA in The Martian. Even the Transformers relied on the CCP’s benevolence and firepower to stop invading robots while their U.S. counterparts were portrayed as inept and corrupt.
The swagger and fearless creative control that once defined Hollywood has been abandoned in favor of placating a genocidal regime on the other side of the planet.