×

Tighter Controls for Hollywood Loom as China’s Communist Party Congress Reaffirms Xi Jinping

The apotheosis of Chinese President Xi Jinping is well nigh complete. China’s just-concluded Communist Party congress, a key political gathering held once every five years, cemented Xi’s status as the country’s most powerful leader since the Great Helmsman himself, Mao Zedong, with no rivals to challenge him.

The congress also enshrined Xi’s authoritarian, assertive approach to policy as official doctrine, meaning that China’s ideological and financial clampdown of the past several months is set to become the status quo. Xi Jinping Thought has been written into the party’s constitution, an honor not accorded to a living Chinese leader since Mao. In the technology and entertainment space — politically sensitive areas — both domestic players and foreign suitors such as Hollywood will likely have to get used to increased central control by Beijing.

Indeed, some of China’s biggest entertainment executives quickly lined up to kowtow to Xi and his agenda for his second five-year term, which he laid out in a speech lasting more than three hours. That agenda includes pursuing China’s own system of governance (read: no Western-style democracy), promoting “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” easing the vast social inequalities that have arisen over the past 30 years of breakneck economic development and adopting a muscular foreign policy.

“Listening to [Xi’s] report, I felt a surge of emotion,” Dalian Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin enthused. The property-to-entertainment conglomerate has been severely chastened by Xi’s government in the last few months, forced to halt its aggressive overseas acquisitions and unload many of its hotels and theme parks.

Likewise, Jack Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, made it known that he supports Xi’s proposals on income redistribution. Alibaba, too, has felt the heavy hand of government direction. Part of Xi’s vision of a strong, globally powerful China entails shoring up the country’s laggard state-owned enterprises and giving them the chance to catch up to or overtake private companies in some fields. Last month saw a round of government-ordered investments by leading private firms, including Alibaba and Tencent, in state-owned enterprises such as telecom company China Unicom. There have also been new orders to install Communist Party functionaries on the boards of private companies.

Xi’s ambition for China to create world-beating brands in high-tech sectors like electric cars and artificial intelligence should give some impetus and latitude to players in those fields. “The push for digital innovation will benefit the internet companies,” said one Asia-based analyst, who asked not to be named because of the political sensitivity of the party congress. “The flip side is that we have seen more stringent control on media in the past five-year regime under Xi — i.e., tighter foreign format imports, a ban on Korean content, tighter censorship and control over content, etc.  … Xi’s leadership has shifted from less regulation to tighter central control.”

Listening to [Xi’s] report, I felt a surge of emotion.”
Wang Jianlin, Dalian Wanda chairman

Foreign companies have long been accustomed to playing by the Chinese government’s rules, usually in hopes that those rules might, at some point, bend in their favor. But under Xi — whom The Economist recently declared the world’s most powerful person, over U.S. President Donald Trump — there is probably little likelihood of greater openings for Netflix, Facebook or Twitter, which remain banned in China, or for the Hollywood majors. Negotiations on movie import quotas and distribution terms were halted during the party congress.

The eight-day gathering offered few specifics about the entertainment industry. A briefing on the sidelines by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, China’s media regulator, boasted of this year’s 20% upswing at the domestic box office after last year’s worrisome slowdown, an increase driven by hits such as “Wolf Warrior II.” That action thriller, notable for nationalistic themes of which Xi would no doubt approve, has made more than $850 million at the Chinese box office.

The party congress also produced no clear successor to the 64-year-old Xi, an indication that the president may try to rule beyond the two terms of his immediate predecessors. His blueprint for China is meant to guide the world’s most populous country for at least
the next 30 years — which means that homegrown entertainment companies and Hollywood players have plenty of time to get used to new constraints on doing business in the Middle Kingdom.

More Biz

  • Alan Horn Bill Tanner

    Alan Horn to Keynote Variety Business Managers Elite Breakfast, Bill Tanner to Be Honored

    Bill Tanner will be recognized with Variety’s 2019 Business Managers Elite Award at the annual Business Managers Elite Breakfast presented by City National Bank, which takes place in Beverly Hills on Nov. 13. Co-chairman and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn will be the keynote speaker in conversation with Variety editor-in-chief, [...]

  • Smoke haze covers the Sydney Harbour

    Australia's Seven West to Merge With Affiliate Prime Media

    Australia’s Seven West Media has agreed a deal to acquire regional broadcast group Prime Media. The move is a further step in the consolidation of Australia’s traditional media industry. The two companies announced on Friday that Seven will make the acquisition entirely through the issue of new shares to the owners of Prime. Both companies [...]

  • Ron Meyer

    Ron Meyer Files $10 Million Suit Over Forged Rothko

    NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer has filed a $10 million suit against two art dealers, claiming they sold him a forged Mark Rothko painting in 2001. Meyer accuses Susan Seidel and Jaime Frankfort of duping him into buying the work. According to the suit, he was told that it would be included in an official [...]

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein (L)

    Harvey Weinstein Seeks to Call Expert on 'Recovered' Memories at Rape Trial

    Harvey Weinstein’s attorneys are seeking to call an expert on “recovered memories” at his trial on rape and sexual assault charges. The defense has filed a motion asking to call Deborah Davis, a psychologist and professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. Davis is a frequent defense witness. She co-authored an article in 2006 [...]

  • Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime

    Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime and Rolling Stone

    Showtime Documentary Films today announced a new limited docuseries profiling controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Titled “SuperVillain” and inspired by the Rolling Stone feature written by Stephen Witt, the three-part series will trace how a New York City deli clerk named Daniel Hernandez became superstar rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine — who racked up 2.6 billion streams and [...]

  • Fader Label Logo

    Fader Label Signs Two New Acts, Boosts Staff

    The Fader Label, home to Clairo, Matt and Kim and others, announced two new signings today along with three new hires on its staff. Charlie Burg and Zachary Knowles have joined the label’s talent roster, while Carson Oberg has come aboard as general manager, Yasmine Panah as project manager and Josh Hymowitz as label coordinator. They [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content