China Goes Hollywood?

Aug. 18, 2016
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With an enormous population and a growing economy, China, unsurprisingly, has become a thriving market for movies. In China’s Encounter with Global Hollywood, University of California Riverside media professor Wendy Su measures the triangle that developed post-Mao between Hollywood, the Chinese government and China’s film industry.

The position of Hollywood in this arrangement is all the more remarkable considering that American movies were banned from Mainland China in 1950. Under the reforms that took hold in the 1980s, the Communist regime allowed American movies into theaters and broadcast channels provided they passed the country’s wall of censorship. In recent years dozens of blockbusters and IMAX pictures have been imported annually. During that same time China’s movie studios, far from being swamped by the competition, have grown into the world’s third largest film industry. Revenues soared.

The regime did not abandon the use of movies as propaganda, but redefined film as a commodity whose popularity in the marketplace would insure that audiences heard the politically correct messages. Nevertheless, the loosening of censorship resulted in many movies that presented recent Chinese history or the lives of everyday people in a gloomy light. But while the immediate post-Mao generation of filmmakers, many of them influenced by European cinema, made movies that appealed to Western critics and film festival programmers, many younger directors have taken a more populist approach by making movies intended for their homeland’s large, lucrative market. Su argues convincingly that “the overemphasis on market demands has had a chilling effect on filmmakers” by causing them to avoid sensitive topics.

China’s Encounter with Global Hollywood is published by University Press of Kentucky,

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