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China Will Now Censor Movies Beyond the Mainland

Photo by Thom Masat via Unsplash

China Will Now Censor Movies Beyond the Mainland

By Movieguide® Staff

China’s movie censorship of movies will extend beyond the mainland and now apply to movies distributed in Hong Kong as well, according to a recent announcement.

The orders from Beijing mark a turning point in Hong Kong’s previous freedom from China’s mainland censorship laws. 

The New York Times reported: “The new guidelines, which apply to both domestically produced and foreign films, come as a sharp slap to the artistic spirit of Hong Kong, where government-protected freedoms of expression and an irreverent local culture had imbued the city with a cultural vibrancy that set it apart from mainland megacities.”

During the 2020 pandemic, China overtook North America as the leader in the worldwide box office. 

Movieguide® previously reported

The coronavirus decimated the U.S. entertainment industry as theaters shuttered their doors, and movies and television shows halted production. Though some markets have reopened theaters, Hollywood blockbusters are scarce, and major markets continue to keep theaters closed. Meanwhile, China slowly lifted its regulations and reopened theaters.

China’s 2020 revenue reached just shy of $2 billion on Sunday after adding $46.4 million to the weekend’s running total. With the U.S. entertainment industry continually being forced to call audibles, the prediction is that China will hold the top spot in movie ticket sales for the remainder of the year.  

The added pressure of censorship from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on foreign and domestic movies solidifies their control over a large portion of the global box office. 

Hong Kong’s presence in the entertainment industry reached a peak following World War II. Many of their classic movies inspired Hollywood directors and created global sensations like Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau, and Tony Leung. 

However, Hong Kong’s celebrated history in the industry could end with increased censorship and pressure from the CCP. 

In 2019, China “enacted a national security law… to quash the anti government protests” in Hong Kong.

The former British colony was an enclave of freedom nestled within the CCP. In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China, and increased censorship loomed. 

Aside from banning various screeners, Hong Kong filmmakers fear that the regulations will make production more difficult altogether. 

“How do you raise funds?” Evans Chan, a local filmmaker, questioned. “Can you openly crowdsource and say that this is a film about certain points of view, certain activities? It’s not just a matter of activist filmmaking or political filmmaking, but the overall scene of filmmaking in Hong Kong.”

But China’s hand in Hong Kong affairs has resulted in an overhaul in other areas of social life. 

“With the blessing of the Communist government, the Hong Kong authorities have changed school curriculums, pulled books off library shelves and moved to overhaul elections. The police have arrested pro-democracy activists and politicians as well as a high-profile newspaper publisher,” NYT reported. “And in the arts, the law has created an atmosphere of fear.”

The new guidelines read: “When considering the effect of the film as a whole and its likely effect on the persons likely to view the film, the censor should have regard to the duties to prevent and suppress act or activity endangering national security.”

A Hong Kong government-issued statement added: “The film censorship regulatory framework is built on the premise of a balance between protection of individual rights and freedoms on the one hand, and the protection of legitimate societal interests on the other.”

The vague guidelines offer the CCP better control of what is released to the public and what is not. However, the new rules show a particular emphasis on movies that claim to adhere to real-life events, such as a project that “purports to be a documentary” or highlights “real events with immediate connection to the circumstances in Hong Kong.”

The CCP also tightened its hold on mainland productions. Movieguide® previously reported

North America led the global box office for years until 2020, when China topped revenue charts in a year where the coronavirus shut down business across the world, including cinemas.  

As the number of moviegoers in China’s thriving market grows exponentially, a new report revealed that Chinese theaters must show propaganda movies.  

The NAAC has over 5,000 theaters across China and will be forced to schedule a minimum of two propaganda movies per week. Moreover, the movies, which Chinese officials specifically approve, must “attach great importance [to the screenings], execute them in earnestness… painstakingly organize them and ensure tangible results.”