Just when there were signs that Hollywood’s sycophantic relationship with China might be changing, earlier this month, Disney confirmed that Marvel movies are officially returning to theaters in the Middle Kingdom. “This is the first time in three years theatergoers in China will be able to see films from Disney’s biggest franchise after the country apparently blocked releases of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies,” reported Axios.
Last October, the Financial Times reported that “there are questions in Hollywood about how open the Chinese market will be to foreign films once the country’s Covid lockdowns lift.” Recent blockbuster films “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” were both blocked in China for obscure reasons. Last year’s “Top Gun: Maverick” featured a positive portrayal of the Taiwanese flag. And, most importantly for those holding the purse strings, the Chinese box office was down an estimated 36 percent last year, leading to speculations that the entertainment industry will reconsider its financial relationship with China.
Yet as Disney’s recent announcement proves, if there’s money on the table, Hollywood is going to want in on it, especially given a market as large as that of China. Moreover, according to that same Financial Times article, China’s governing elites want to ensure that the cinema industry can thrive again and that theaters are once more full.
“It’s going to be very carefully orchestrated and calculated. And it’s going to benefit the big [U.S.] studios more than anyone else because it’s going to be the big tent-pole [films] that they feel are politically safe,” Stephen Saltzman, head of the international entertainment group at law firm Fieldfisher, told the magazine. Indeed, though Chinese investment in U.S. entertainment peaked in 2016, it is once again rising.
Given all this, I’d like to propose some movies Hollywood should consider. I have no expectations the avaricious cowards running the entertainment industry would actually produce such films, but if we are talking about stories that actually speak to the most harrowing, important contemporary problems, the narratives below are some of the most compelling in the world (and certainly more needed than yet another historical drama about American slavery).
Not only that but, to cite the dustup over the recent “Top Gun” movie, Hollywood used to exhibit more willingness to participate in pushing back against our greatest ideological adversaries, releasing such important films as “The Hunt for Red October,” “Doctor Zhivago,” and, of course, “Red Dawn.”
‘The Uighur Great Escape’
Hollywood loves stories about dystopian futures in which the government monitors people’s every move, brainwashes them to believe errant ideologies, destroys their freedom, and exploits their labor for unjust financial gain. Well, Beijing has been doing that for years in the north-western region of Xinjiang, home of the Muslim, ethnic Turkic Uighurs.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has placed thousands of Uighurs in detention camps patrolled by armed officers with a shoot-to-kill policy for those trying to escape. China has been accused of trying to wipe out Uighur culture and religion, including destroying mosques and tombs. There are reports of mass sterilization of Uighurs, as well as using them as slave labor. Many nations, including our own, have labeled the Chinese government’s activities genocide.
How about a film that follows a group of Uighurs who escape from one of these re-education camps? The story could be presented in the same vein as other great escape-from-prison movies, such as “The Great Escape” starring Steve McQueen or Morgan Freeman’s “Shawshank Redemption.”
Viewers could gain an inside glimpse of what these brutal CCP camps are truly like while the heroic Uighurs trying to preserve their ancient culture and identity are properly valorized. It would be a story of terrible injustice, yet inspired by the unquenchable human desire to be free.
‘Hong Kong Spotlight’
Several years ago, the Chinese government brought democracy in Hong Kong to its knees as police brutalized protesters, arrested thousands of people, and enacted new draconian laws aimed at silencing dissent. “The overwhelming majority of the city’s pro-democracy figures are now behind bars, have withdrawn from public life or are living in self-imposed exile,” NBC reported last year. In December, a Hong Kong court sentenced jailed media mogul, democratic activist, and outspoken Catholic Jimmy Lai to almost six years in prison for fraud.
Why not produce a film modeled on such journalism dramas as “All the President’s Men” or “Spotlight,” showcasing the courage and heroism of Chinese journalists trying to stand up to the communist regime? Lai’s story alone is interesting enough to warrant a cinematic adaptation, but a fictional account loosely based on what Beijing has done to democracy and press freedom in Hong Kong would be just as good. Perhaps it could tell the story of Hong Kong journalists going underground, bravely holding on, and secretly informing the public about the CCP’s behavior.
The CCP has also been condemned for its behavior around the world, particularly in Africa. “Over a third of China’s oil comes from Africa, as does 20% of the country’s cotton,” Forbes reported in 2019. Africa also possesses about half of the world’s stock of manganese, necessary for steel production, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo owns half of the planet’s cobalt. Africa also has large amounts of coltan (required for electronics), and half of the world’s known supply of carbonatites, a primary source of rare earth minerals.
Of course, given the egregious corruption of the CCP, it’s little surprise that Beijing’s resource extraction in Africa and elsewhere unjustly exploits poor nations. Often, Chinese companies bring in Chinese labor rather than hire and train those in the local economy. Chinese economic policies often destroy local environments, steal local resources, and encourage spying on regional allies. Wouldn’t a fast-paced, action thriller explaining and exposing all of this, perhaps in the vein of a movie like “Blood Diamond,” be exciting? It could star an African hero and/or heroine who seeks to fight back against unjust, exploitative Chinese state-owned companies.
These ideas just scratch the surface for great future films that are both necessary and relevant. We need movies that illustrate the CCP’s deceit and tyranny vis-a-vis pandemic regulations, its deception of the Vatican and oppression of persecuted Christian communities, its bullying of other Asian nations, and its saber-rattling toward a democratic Taiwan, threatening a global conflict that could kill millions. Sadly, even if the entertainment industry may be slightly less friendly toward China, I doubt any such films will ever see the light of day.
Billions suffer at the hands of Beijing but don’t expect Hollywood to tell their stories.