In his novel ‘’World War Z,’’ author Max Brooks has a telling plot development early on, where the global scourge of a zombie virus originated in China, with that nation covering up the outbreak. It serves as a telling precursor to this year’s Covid-19 global pandemic, but it is a prescient plot development that audiences who watched the film version of the story never saw. In the film adaptation, with Brad Pitt in the lead role, the zombie pandemic was originating in Russia. This was a conscious script alteration, one made specifically with appeasement of Chinese entertainment authorities.
Hollywood has been on a regular quest to gain entry into the Chinese movie industry. The booming expansion of theaters, production facilities, and audience interest has American studios salivating, but there is not an easy pathway into this marketplace. The Chinese Communist government understands the importance of politics being downstream of culture and in the process has a deep involvement in its own entertainment development. The Chi-Coms provide incentives to developers to build more theaters throughout the country as they rule over motion picture content with an iron fist.
This desire to provide its citizens with a heavily agitprop-tinted entertainment landscape means that a tight control over its allowed content from Hollywood is in place and American companies -- so desperate for the swelling tide of Chinese revenues -- have been willing to subjugate themselves and to actually alter our own American culture, in an effort to appease and win approval. The studios have literally traded off their own content in exchange for access, and Joe Biden is given a large dose of credit for this.
YUAN MAN FOR THE JOB
Consider briefly the charges of dangerous fealty the media love to accuse the president as having with regards to Russia. We are routinely told that President Trump is beholden to Vlad Putin, that the Russian leader has Trump in his back pocket, that financial interests take priority over national security, and that Putin effectively runs the White House. Put those accusations in your back pocket for now.
At a conference held in 2014 for the Motion Picture Association of America some interesting comments were made by former Washington D.C. fixture, Christopher Dodd. The 30-year senator left The Swamp to become the president of the MPAA, a position not too dissimilar from a commissioner in professional sports; while they are a figurehead representing team owners Dodd is in the role of being the lead voice for movie studios. Dodd was introducing then Vice President Joe Biden, to address the MPAA regarding intellectual property protections, a key issue for studios.
In his opening statement about Biden he said this: ‘’When we saw the changes that occurred in our relationship that changed, on the issue of quotas -- with those that follow the issue, with China -- they went from 20, to 34.’’ What Dodd is referring to there is the control the Chi-Coms hold over their movie industry and the limitations placed on Hollywood films released on the Mainland. Currently there are no more than 34 titles from Hollywood permitted to be released in China in a given year. Another limitation is that unlike other foreign territories -- where the average box office take for studios is around 40% - in China studios are only entitled to collect 25% of the ticket sales. But those figures had originally been lower.
In mentioning this increase on the Chinese side of exhibitor participation Dodd said, ‘’There were a lot of people who contributed to that, no one -- ABSOLUTELY NO ONE -- made as much of a difference in the outcome of that negotiation than the Vice President of the United States.’’ This was Dodd referencing the work that Joe Biden had done in negotiating better terms for Hollywood in China, something Biden mentions in his address as he referred to a luncheon held in Los Angeles in February, 2012.
‘’By the end of that lunch we had a handshake. It wasn’t massive, but it did grow access for American films,’’ said the Vice President. ‘’The next year the number of blockbuster foreign films showing in China is increased by over half, and our share of the box office revenue has doubled.’’ The hand that Biden shook belonged to Xi Jinping, the current leader of that nation. Try to imagine the press reaction had this been Donald Trump who brokered such a deal with Vladimir Putin.
That meeting with Chinese dignitaries was part of a five-day diplomatic visit during which numerous studio heads were also in attendance, including Jeffery Katzenberg, who served as the middle initial in Dreamworks SKG. By the end of the Chinese trip it was announced that an agreement had been reached to create a new China-based division, Oriental Dreamworks. The announced deal would be in conjunction with other production companies in China, a joint venture priced out to $330 million.
Since this deal other studios have entered into Chinese production partnerships, with China learning how to create movies and shows from U.S. experience while mandating the approved content. This is more lucrative because not only is this a way for an American studio to produce content in the mainland, it also benefits movie releases. If a film is considered a joint-production that title then is not held in the 34 film quota, and the studio is entitled to a greater box office cut, usually over 40%.
It was with little surprise that as the Democratic Party chose Biden as its figurehead that Katzenberg would be a frequent bundler for the candidate. Recently the studio head, along with George Clooney, raised $7 million for the Biden campaign.