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Hollywood won’t bow to Beijing forever

Sticking it to the North Koreans – not the Chinese – in Red Dawn (2012)

When Universal studios released their adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930, movie execs were certain they “had a hit on their hands”, says Sonny Bunch in The Washington Post. Germany was one of the biggest markets for Hollywood films and the anti-war story was told from a German perspective. But the Nazis had other ideas. On opening night, brownshirts in the audience yelled at the screen, and Joseph Goebbels told the crowd that “Hollywood had come to Germany to sully its reputation”. Universal hastily scrubbed the film of anything that might offend Nazi sensibilities. Two years later, German authorities introduced Article 15: “a provision that gave Germany the right to cancel distribution agreements with any studio that produced a film it found offensive”.

Today, Hollywood is just as nervous about China. Most studios avoid featuring Chinese villains entirely. Some self-censor their scripts: for the 2012 remake of Red Dawn, MGM swapped out Chinese baddies for North Koreans. Others go as far to portray Chinese forces as heroes, as in Paramount’s 2014 blockbuster Transformers: Age of Extinction. Yet despite this pandering, Beijing still bars plenty of American films. That may be a mistake. If Hollywood knows Chinese audiences are a lost cause, how much longer will it suck up to Beijing? “War ultimately ended Germany’s pressure campaign; China might simply overplay its hand.”