A new deal signed by Chinese vice president Xi Jinping in Los Angeles, the last stop of his 5-day whirlwind US visit, will give American film studios greater access to China’s $2.1 billion box-office market. US vice president Joe Biden has hailed the new deal as one that will support “thousands of American jobs in and around the film industry.” The deal in a nutshell:
Under the agreement, China will ease restrictions on enhanced formats such as 3-D and IMAX Corp. widescreen technology, enhance commercial terms for filmmakers and open up the state’s monopoly on distribution, the White House statement said.
The MPAA said the agreement would let 50 percent more U.S. films into the Chinese market
China, which now allows 20 foreign films into its market each year, will permit an added 14 enhanced-format films, said Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the MPAA, which represents Hollywood’s biggest movie studios. Under the new revenue-sharing contract, studios will get 25 percent of box-office proceeds, up from the current 13 percent.
Industry players have welcomed news of the deal. Disney CEO Robert A. Iger described it as a “significant opportunity” and a “new era”. Jean Prewitt, president and CEO of the Independent Film & Television Alliance called the agreement “momentous” for independents. Chris Dodd, president of the Motion Picture Association of America praised it as a “major step forward in spurring the growth of US exports to China.”
Among the raft of deals signed by Xi is a new joint venture between Dreamworks Animation and China Media Capital, Shanghai Media Group and Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd:
In a symbol of the new partnership, Dreamworks perched a panda with a fishing pole on top of a crescent moon in the new company’s logo, replacing the boy it uses in the United States. The moon was changed to red instead of white.
Beyond film and television, the new studio will pursue live entertainment, theme parks, mobile, online, interactive games and consumer products, a model similar to media giant Walt Disney Co.
“Our goal is, for five or 10 years from now, to have the leading family-branded entertainment company in China,” Dreamworks Animation Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg said in an interview.
“It’s a pretty significant opportunity for us” given the vast Chinese market for entertainment, he added.
The Chinese companies will hold about 55 percent of the new studio and Dreamworks Animation will own about 45 percent. It will initially be funded with cash and intellectual property valued at $330 million, the companies said.
Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times cites the recent slapdown of Christian Bale by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after his attempts to visit blind activist Chen Guangcheng as an example of how Hollywood celebrities will now have to learn the political lines if they want to work in China. A few stars that have fallen out of favour:
Richard Gere is persona non grata for his longtime activism on behalf of Tibetan independence. Sharon Stone’s films have not been shown since her offhand remark at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival suggesting that a devastating earthquake in China that year was “karma” in retribution for the treatment of Tibetans.
Steven Spielberg was one of the first Hollywood directors to work in China, going to Shanghai to shoot 1987’s “Empire of the Sun,” which featured a young Christian Bale. But Spielberg also fell from grace after withdrawing as an artistic advisor to the 2008 Beijing Olympics in protest of Chinese policy in Sudan. His films are still shown here, but he hasn’t been invited back.
All performances in China need government approval, but the rules are not clearly spelled out, adding an extra element of anxiety.
“We have never been told explicitly, ‘Don’t do X, Y or Z,’ by our Chinese partners,'” said Alison Friedman, head of Beijing-based Ping Pong Productions, which imports cultural events to China. “But you do want to make sure you performers know this is not the time to wear your ‘Free Tibet’ T-shirt.”
Damien Ma of The Atlantic thinks, however, that the China-Hollywood partnership is “probably doomed”:
[…] playing it safe doesn’t always make for good art, and can sometimes seem to lead audiences to seek other outlets that offer more emotional and psychological resonance. The central government lacks the ability to live comfortably with the unpredictability of art, and that’s exactly the problem. The current political intrigue in Chongqing could be adapted into a gripping series on China’s failing institutions like HBO series The Wire, for example; the betrayal between Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun is not unlike the famous unraveling of Stringer Bell and Avon Barksdale. Imagine a split-screen scene with Bo, sitting serenely and Godfather-like at the Chinese opera on the left, and Wang fleeing a trail of police and flooring his Jeep toward the U.S. embassy on the right. The screenplay writes itself. Or at least it would, if the central government were capable of allowing such a thing.
Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a show as profound and gritty as The Wire to emerge from the Chinese market any time soon. Even American TV has many more Bachelors than Wires. But if China hopes to cultivate a culture industry that is globally renowned and respected, it is not a bad aspiration to accept that sometimes one of the favorite TV characters may just be a gay Robin Hood gangster terminating drug dealers on the broken streets of a decaying coastal city. And if Chinese leaders are okay with that, then China has made it.