July 5, 2020 | News | No Comments
China is targeting Hollywood in a new escalation of its trade war with the United States, refusing to show Western films in cinemas and on television, and sacking American actors.
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The move is intended to damage an iconic US industry as tensions between the world’s two largest economies remain high.
It also comes as China is set to overtake the US as the country with the biggest box office takings in the world next year.
According to a new study released by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Chinese cinemas will gross $12.28 billion (£9.6 billion) in 2020, compared to $11.93 billion in the US. China already sells more tickets.
In recent years Hollywood has increasingly been banking on the success of its movies in China, with many of them being written, and cast, to appeal to Chinese audiences.
Even smaller US films have had huge success in China. In March, the low-budget drama Green Book made $71 million there.
The squeezing out of Hollywood movies by China is retaliation for Donald Trump’s trade war. On May 10, Mr Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 per cent to 25 per cent.
China then raised its tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods. It also promised there would be other "countermeasures," and it now appears that includes suppressing films.
"It’s Hollywood, it’s a strong industry for America and it’s symbolic" Dan Harris an international lawyer advising clients doing business in China, told The Telegraph.
"With the film industry there are levers China can pull and push as much as they want. That’s what we’re hearing they’re now doing. It’s a matter of degree, but it’s being ramped up and and it will continue to escalate. All of a sudden you realise there are no Western movies."
There has been no official directive from the Chinese government but industry figures indicate not-so-subtle pressure has been brought to bear and a "de facto" policy is in place.
Disney’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix was still the big film at the Chinese box office this weekend, and Spider-Man: Far From Home was recently granted a Chinese release on June 28.
However, China’s Film Bureau has reportedly been indicating to distributors that US movies would not be given release dates in future, unless they were partly produced by China, as some major Hollywood movies are.
The Los Angeles-based Independent Film and Television Alliance, which represents independent film companies around the world, said the developments were an "extreme setback".
China propaganda puff
One industry insider said: "We just don’t know if it’s going to be possible to get release dates for American movies."
A clear signal of China’s intent to target US-produced entertainment came two weeks ago when Tencent, the Chinese internet giant, cancelled streaming of the final episode of Game of Thrones. The series is highly popular in China.
Over the Sea I Come to You, a Chinese TV series filmed in the US with American actors, was also cancelled.
The plot involved a Chinese man sending his son to study in the US. As the trade war continued China Central Television announced it would be "using the art form of film to echo the current time".
It has started showing productions depicting Chinese soldiers defeating US adversaries. American actors based in China, having moved there as the countries’ film industries became more intertwined, complained that they are no longer being hired.
One, who asked not to be named, told Variety: "Essentially overnight many Americans have been left with no on-screen prospects. Some were fired, some had auditions cancelled, and essentially all our phones have stopped ringing."
The Chinese move mirrors its clampdown on South Korean films and music several years ago after the deployment of an American THAAD missile system there.