Some 13 minutes were trimmed, including one scene in which Will Smith erases the memories of a crowd of onlookers in New York’s Chinatown. According to China Southern Daily, the government may have censored that part of the film because it evoked the image of the Chinese government’s tendency to censor.
The “Men in Black” cuts got plenty of coverage on the blogosphere in the U.S., but evoked very little discernible outrage from the Hollywood institutions that have so zealously professed a defense of free speech.
As the Onion AV Club noted, wryly, “It is, indeed, the most glaring example of Hollywood films kowtowing to Chinese censorship since the last one.”
Another blogger, Sonny Bunch of Doublethink, saw irony in the furor that greeted the MPAA’s R rating for the documentary “Bully,” yet little over the many times Hollywood blockbusters have been edited to meet the demands of Chinese film authorities.
Of course they’re right, but censorship is seen as a part of doing business in China, and for the studios, it’s a price they’re willing to pay to avoid missing out on an exploding market.
While the studios allow edited movies in other territories to respond to cultural sensitivities, and more often than not with little attention, the practice takes on a higher profile due to the size and potential of the market, market, and by what can sound to Americans like stringent, even bizarre rules. (For instance, films allowed to enter the market are not permitted to depict or mention time travel).
Moreover, Hollywood, like many other industries, is measuring success in China by access to the marketplace, not by the content it can get past authorities.
Earlier this year, a deal to ease China’s quotas on foreign films was hailed as a trade breakthrough by the Obama administration, the MPAA and studio moguls. There was little mention of any demand for relaxation of content standards.
Chris Fenton, president of DMG Entertainment Motion Picture Group, which is co-producing “Iron Man 3” in China with Disney and Marvel, says that acceptance of Chinese edits has much do to with the way studios and producers gain entry into the market: The challenge is to establish trust, not to push the envelope.
And while the uninitiated may look with puzzlement at the way business is done there, he says, the attitude is one of partnership — to make each other look good, not to offend.
“It is relationship-based,” Fenton says. “It is (about) understanding the other side and having them understand you. It comes down to a strategic approach to what you are pushing into that market, why you are pushing it and how you (can push) it.”
Nevertheless, the increasing profile of the Chinese market will undoubtedly draw greater attention to the treatment of censorship there vs. here.