Attorney General William Barr blasted Hollywood on Thursday for what he characterized as self-censorship to appease China and ensure entry into its marketplace, to the extent that studios have given the Communist Party “a massive propaganda coup.”
Barr made the remarks in a speech on Thursday at at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, and while he also singled out other industries, like Silicon Valley, for becoming “pawns of Chinese influence,” he spent a chunk of the address attacking the practices of studios.
“Hollywood’s actors producers and directors pride themselves on celebrating freedom and the human spirit, and every year at the Academy Awards Americans are lectured about how this country falls short of Hollywood’s ideals of social justice,” Barr said. “But Hollywood now regularly censors its own movies to appease the Chinese Communist Party, the world’s most powerful violator of human rights. This censorship infects, not only the versions of movies that are released in China, but also many that are shown in the United States theaters to American audiences.”
Barr, other administration figures and congressional Republicans have amped up their rhetoric about China amid the coronavirus crisis. President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed China, even though in February he offered words of praise for President Xi Jinping’s response to the virus in his country, where the outbreak originated.
Barr’s attack on the movie industry had similarities to those of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who introduced legislation in May to restrict federal government assistance for studios that alter their movies to get past China’s censors and gain entry into the country’s lucrative market. The bill has no cosponsors.
Studios for years have edited movies to gain entry into international markets, not just China but other countries, and those edits occasionally have created substantial attention.
The Motion Picture Association had no immediate comment.
Before he became attorney general, Barr was a board member of Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros. When AT&T purchased Time Warner, the media company was rebranded as WarnerMedia.
In his speech, Barr pointed out two examples. One was the case of Paramount’s World War Z, in which he cited reports that Paramount told producers to edit out references to a virus originating in China, “in the hope of landing a Chinese distribution deal,” Barr said, adding that the deal never materialized.
He also cited Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange, in which he claimed that filmmakers changed the nationality of a major character from a Tibetan monk to Celtic.
“When challenged about this, a screenwriter explained that if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place, and then he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people, or as the Chinese government might say, ‘We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political,'” Barr said.
Barr said that “many scripts never see the light of day because writers and producers know not to test the limits,” and that “Chinese censors don’t need to say a word because Hollywood is doing their work for them.”
“This is a massive propaganda coup for the Chinese Communist Party,” Barr added. “The story of the film industry’s submission to the CCP is a familiar one.”
He said that in the past two decades, as China has emerged as the world’s largest box office, the Communist ruling party has tightly controlled access to the market “with quotas on American films in violation of China’s WTO obligations and a strict censorship regime.”
He also said that “increasingly Hollywood also relies on Chinese money for financing,” and that in 2018 films with Chinese investors accounted for 20% of the US box office ticket sales, compared to only 3% five years earlier.
“As with other Chinese industries, the PRC may be less interested in cooperating with Hollywood than in co-opting Hollywood and eventually replacing it with its own homegrown homegrown movie productions,” Barr said, contending that China is using the limitations of its film quota to force U.S. studios into joint ventures.