Visit to dissident's home clashes with awards strategy

The old Hollywood adage that says no publicity is bad publicity was put to the test when security guards assaulted “Flowers of War” thesp Christian Bale as he attempted to visit one of China’s best-known dissidents, Chen Guangcheng.

Bale was promoting China’s foreign-language Oscar submission, “Flowers of War,” considered the country’s most expensive film at $94 million. CNN cameras accompanied Bale to Chen’s home, where they captured Bale being jostled by security as he asked, “Why can I not visit this man?”

The incident brings China’s human-rights violations back to the forefront at a time when the country has its best chance for an Oscar and wants the opportunity to compete on the world stage. More importantly, it appears to demonstrate a star unintentionally working against his film’s Academy strategy in a category that is almost always fraught with controversy.

China, no doubt, hopes the nationalistic tone of “The Flowers of War” will help repair the country’s image, but Oscar voters might find the message in direct conflict with the images on CNN. The film is set against the backdrop of the Rape of Nanking, when Japanese soldiers took the city and murdered thousands of its citizens.

Even if Bale set out to bring attention to China’s treatment of dissidents, he could not have been surprised by the actions of the security officers. Other journalists and diplomats have tried to visit Chen and have been chased off; the presence of CNN cameras made the event seem orchestrated to cause embarrassment for the government during a publicity tour.

Whether or not Bale’s actions affect the film’s Oscar chances will have to wait until nominations are announced Jan. 24.

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