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China Debuts of ‘Dolittle,’ ‘1917,’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Postponed as Virus Outbreak Hurts Entertainment

(From L-R): Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson
Larry Horricks

The previously announced theatrical releases of Universal’s “Dolittle,” Oscars frontrunners “1917,” “Jojo Rabbit” and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” as well as Millennium’s “Hellboy,” have all been postponed in Mainland China, victims of the growing coronavirus contagion.

Cinemas are currently shut across the country, and all film and TV production has been indefinitely halted. Though the Chinese new year holiday has been extended until Feb. 10 in much of the country, Chinese residents remain for the most part locked away at home nationwide, venturing out only out of necessity while businesses remain shut.

Oscar contender “Jojo Rabbit” pulled out of its Feb. 12 China debut “out of consideration for the enclosed spaces of cinemas and the risk of transmitting the disease,” according to a statement from the National Arthouse Alliance of Cinemas, which was distributing it in a limited release. “Dolittle” had been scheduled for Feb. 21.

“We hope every audience member can limit going outside and actively take self-protection measures,” the NAAC statement read. “We salute the medical workers on the frontline of the battle! The national arthouse alliance will actively cooperate with the country’s moves to fight the epidemic, and to contribute our strength to win this blockade against the epidemic!”

Positive, patriotic messages evoking military rhetoric about the “battle” against the disease have proliferated as the country takes unprecedented measures to try to contain the virus, such as placing cities of millions on effective lockdown.

Eleven foreign titles had been previously lined up to hit China this month, including Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” on the 28th. Local distributor Road Pictures has yet to announce a cancellation or postponement of “Marriage Story.”

Postponements will cost the Oscar-nominated titles the opportunity to ride the PR boost of an Awards win to greater box office success in the world’s second-largest film market, the way last year’s best picture winner “Green Book” rode a tide of attention to an unexpected $71 million haul.

Meanwhile, other entertainment options will also remain limited in China for the foreseeable future. 

Almost all live music shows across the country have been cancelled in February and March, with the fate of a remaining handful of big tours and festivals still in limbo. The Pixies, set to make their China debut in Shanghai on Feb. 29 and Beijing on March 1, have pulled out, while the Japanese pop group Suchmoz has also cancelled their China tour to Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen. The Chinese outposts of the Blue Note jazz club in both Beijing and Shanghai have cancelled all February shows, as has popular Shanghai venue Yuyintang.