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China and Hollywood Movie & Blockbuster Film Investments

China has never been shy about its desire to acquire “soft power” – the kind of cultural and economic influence that can’t be wielded by military might. And Hollywood has often been a partner in its project.

China’s bid for soft power was on show this week, as Sony Pictures Entertainment formed an alliance with Dalian Wanda, a Chinese company that has become one of the world’s largest media empires, in a deal announced Friday. While the partnership was smaller than some of Dalian Wanda’s previous acquisitions, it attracted attention as the Chinese company’s third major deal in Hollywood this year.

There are upsides to Hollywood’s courtship of China. Fine Chinese actors are now regularly cast in American movies — Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen will be featured in “Star Wars: Rogue One,” for example, and a treasure trove of Chinese stories, locations and aesthetics is gradually being introduced to American audiences. If Hollywood’s China partnerships help erode the cultural myopia of American film, good.

China and Hollywood Movie & Blockbuster Film Investments

The growth of China’s middle class has created a massive new market for the entertainment industry. China has built an average of 27 new cinema screens per day this year and surpassed the US with 40,475 screens total. Not only that, but in 2017 China’s box office revenue will likely surpass that of the US, making China the largest movie market in the world.

Obviously, moviemakers in Hollywood want to reach those customers. The problem is the Chinese government only allows a certain number of foreign films into the country each year, and censorship laws make it difficult for Hollywood to make films that appeal to both US and Chinese moviegoers at the same time.

From product placement and casting famous Chinese entertainers in supporting roles to altering filming locations and storylines, Hollywood has done a lot over the past 20 years to gain entry into China’s ever-growing moviegoing market.

These deals have sparked concern over whether China’s expanding influence in Hollywood could lead to more pro-Chinese propaganda in U.S. films. The Chinese government tightly controls media content, and Hollywood studios have been known to alter films to feature China or the Chinese government in a more flattering light to gain access to the country’s lucrative film market.

China and Hollywood Movie & Blockbuster Film Investments

For Hollywood, China provides the blockbuster combination of a huge movie market and cash-rich equity funds that are eager to invest in films and companies. The Chinese box office is on pace to soon surpass the U.S. as the world’s biggest market, perhaps next year.

But China’s film industry isn’t run by the talent; it’s run by the Chinese Communist Party, which has grown increasingly assertive and paranoid since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. Xi is waging a soft-power campaign that requires artists, filmmakers, writers, academics and the media to “serve socialism” and show “positive energy” by offering uplifting messages about the party.

On Sept. 15, 16 members of Congress mentioned the Chinese company by name in a letter that called for greater scrutiny of foreign investments. The 14 Republicans and two Democrats said that Dalian Wanda’s acquisitions have raised concerns “about China’s efforts to censor topics and exert propaganda controls on American media.”



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