How afraid should Hol­ly­wood be of China’s rich­est man?

The Myanmar Times - - News | Views -

DALIAN Wanda’s Wang Jian­lin, China’s rich­est man and owner of Wanda Group, is close to fi­nal­is­ing a deal that would give him con­trol of Hol­ly­wood’s Dick Clark Pro­duc­tions, val­ued at US$1 bil­lion. Fear has spread through­out Hol­ly­wood that China’s pro­pa­ganda ma­chine is com­ing to Tin­sel­town. But how afraid should Hol­ly­wood be of Wang Jian­lin?

With the pur­chase of Dick Clark Pro­duc­tions, re­spon­si­ble for stag­ing the Golden Globes and the Amer­i­can Mu­sic Awards, Mr Wang’s reach would ex­tend to the glam­ourous side of Hol­ly­wood. The pur­chase would add an­other string to Mr Wang’s en­ter­tain­ment bow, fol­low­ing his 2012 pur­chase of AMC En­ter­tain­ment Hold­ings Inc and his 2016 pur­chase of Leg­endary En­ter­tain­ment.

Ac­count­ing for his rapid en­ter­tain­ment ex­pan­sion, Mr Wang ex­plained that he hoped to “aid China’s en­try into Hol­ly­wood … and pro­mote Chi­nese cul­ture abroad”. Ex­pand­ing China’s soft power into film is the log­i­cal next step of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CCP) fol­low­ing its ex­pan­sion into pol­i­tics and me­dia. As early as 2014, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping had called for art to “dis­sem­i­nate con­tem­po­rary Chi­nese val­ues” and “em­body tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture”. Per­haps it is state­ments like these from Chi­nese lead­ers that have gen­er­ated sus­pi­cions of Mr Wang’s mo­tives for in­creas­ing his in­flu­ence in Hol­ly­wood.

The US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives sub­com­mit­tee is cer­tainly sus­pi­cious. John Cul­ber­son, a Repub­li­can se­na­tor, asked the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to as­sess Mr Wang’s pur­chase to mit­i­gate “for­eign pro­pa­ganda in­flu­ence over Amer­i­can me­dia”. This in­ter­ven­tion fol­lowed a Septem­ber let­ter by 16 mem­bers of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives ask­ing for the scope of the Com­mit­tee on For­eign In­vest­ment to in­clude the Chi­nese ac­qui­si­tion of US firms. Clearly there is con­cern within the US about en­croach­ing Chi­nese pro­pa­ganda.

So should Hol­ly­wood movie ex­ec­u­tives start stocking up on Mr Xi’s The Gov­er­nance of China in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the Chi­nese pro­pa­ganda on­slaught?

Well, not quite. While Mr Wang wants to tell Chi­nese sto­ries, it seems Chi­nese au­di­ences are con­tent to watch Amer­i­can ones.

In 2015, Hol­ly­wood films ac­counted for al­most 40 per­cent of China’s box of­fice, de­spite gov­ern­ment lim­its on the num­ber of for­eign films per­mit­ted to en­ter the Chi­nese mar­ket. For in­stance, over this sum­mer the CCP re­laxed its pol­icy of re­strict­ing Hol­ly­wood films to be shown dur­ing the peak sum­mer pe­riod. The lat­est Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles and Tarzan were both re­leased over the hol­i­day pe­riod.

The eas­ing of this pol­icy was partly done to boost the num­ber of cin­ema-go­ers, which had fallen in the sec­ond half of this year. The de­clin­ing num­ber of film view­ers is partly due to the glut of movie the­atres in China, with over 20 new screens added per day, and the end of the dis­count­ing war that saw tick­ets be­ing sold for as lit­tle as $2. Given the Chi­nese thirst for Western films, it seems un­likely that Mr Wang’s pur­chase will lead to com­mu­nist sto­ry­lines be­com­ing the de-jure sto­ry­line of Hol­ly­wood films.

As pre­vi­ously writ­ten in The In­ter­preter, there is ev­i­dence that Hol­ly­wood films self-cen­sor, even chang­ing en­tire scenes to en­sure their films meet the re­stric­tions im­posed by the Chi­nese State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Press, Pub­li­ca­tion, Ra­dio, Film and Tele­vi­sion (SAPPRFT). In­cen­tivised by Mr Wang’s an­nounce­ment that he will give a sub­sidy of up to 40pc to stu­dios that shoot films in China, some Hol­ly­wood di­rec­tors will con­tinue to self-cen­sor in or­der to en­ter the Chi­nese mar­ket.

But the im­pact of this is not likely to be big. Where Hol­ly­wood ex­cels – and China doesn’t – is a thriv­ing mar­ket of in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ers. Bou­tique Chi­nese film­mak­ers are ham­strung by lay­ers of bu­reau­cracy and cen­sor­ship. In Hol­ly­wood, how­ever, the abun­dance of pro­duc­tion houses from art­house to large cor­po­ra­tions such as Net­flix, en­sures that Amer­i­can au­di­ences have a plethora of op­tions when it comes to their en­ter­tain­ment.

If Mr Wang re­ally wanted to be­come a force of Chi­nese pro­pa­ganda in Amer­ica, he could as owner of AMC de­cide to show only Chi­nese po­lit­i­cally cor­rect films in his cin­e­mas. How­ever, he would likely face a long le­gal bat­tle. In 2015, the Jus­tice Depart­ment forced AMC to sell movie the­atres to pro­tect com­pe­ti­tion. In any event, with the rise of stream­ing and video on de­mand ser­vices, Amer­i­can au­di­ences are more likely to stay at home and watch Net­flix than go out and see a pro­pa­ganda-lite film.

China’s ex­pand­ing cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence is no doubt of con­cern to some. But in a time of pro­lif­er­at­ing en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, con­cern over China’s ex­pand­ing in­flu­ence in the film in­dus­try is over­rated. The beauty of on de­mand en­ter­tain­ment is if view­ers don’t like what they see, they can just say no.

– The In­ter­preter

Marie-Alice McLean-Drey­fus is a for­mer East Asian in­tern at the Lowy In­sti­tute cur­rently study­ing in Tai­wan.

Photo: EPA

Hol­ly­wood block­busters The Amaz­ing Spi­der­man and The Dark Knight Rises are ad­ver­tised in cen­tral Bei­jing on Au­gust 24, 2012. Chi­nese cin­ema-go­ers have con­tin­ued to show an ap­petite for US films de­spite gov­ern­ment ef­forts to limit the num­ber of for­eign movies per­mit­ted to en­ter the Chi­nese mar­ket.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.