Human rights activists highlight case of 'barefoot lawyer'

Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media has been criticized by human rights groups for shooting laffer “21 and Over” in a city where one of China’s most prominent dissidents, the blind “barefoot lawyer” Chen Guangcheng, is being held under house arrest.

The controversy comes as Hollywood tries to forge closer links to the booming Chinese film biz, and shows that while the country is opening up and reforming, human rights issues have not gone away and can cause serious public relations headaches.

Activists are particularly angry at Relativity’s links to the local Communist Party, which they blame for the abuse of Chen, who has been under house arrest with his family since his release from prison in 2010.

In a statement announcing the start of shooting, Relativity quoted the Communist Party secretary of Linyi Municipal Committee, Zhang Shajun, as saying: “We welcome international filmmakers to come to Linyi to make beautiful worldwide films, and particularly welcome my good friend Ryan Kavanaugh, and his great company, Relativity, to be shooting in our historic city.”

Chen, one of China’s highest-profile dissidents, was jailed for drawing attention to forced sterilizations and abortions under the One Child Policy.

Nanjing-based activist He Peirong, who has done much to highlight Chen’s plight, said the area around Chen’s home is a no-go area, patrolled by hired thugs who harass Chen and anyone trying to get in, including foreign diplomats and journalists.

“Co-operating in this movie means they (Relativity) have ignored the violence done to Chen by the Linyi government,” He said in a phone interview.

Defending its decision to shoot in the city, Relativity said, “From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights, and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment.”

“21 and Over” is the first co-production to be made by Sky Land, a shingle run by Relativity Media, SAIF Partners and IDG China Media, which recently announced a strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution, one of the Chinese government’s official distribution agencies.

Pic is written and helmed by “The Hangover” scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and features Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Skylar Astin and Sarah Wright in the tale of college seniors who get their best friend drunk on his 21st birthday and then must get him to his medical school exam the next morning.

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