entertainment

NBA, 'South Park' episodes spotlight Hollywood's China dilemma

24 Comments
By Lisa Richwine

China's removal of animated comedy "South Park" from online sites just as it dropped U.S. basketball broadcasts highlighted a tension familiar to Hollywood studios - the need to please Chinese authorities in order to reach the country's vast audience.

Media companies count on ticket sales in China, which is projected to become the world's largest movie market next year, to bolster their bottom lines. And some films, such as recent Oscar winner "Green Book," rely on Chinese investment to make it to the big screen.

That, along with China's limit of 34 imported movies per year, has forced movie and TV studios to shape programming in a way that satisfies Chinese censors without suppressing the creative freedom of producers and writers.

"They have tried to do it in such a way that they can make as much money as possible by having access to the China market, but not become so embarrassed by the backlash at home," said Stanley Rosen, a political science professor at the University of Southern California.

The creators of irreverent comedy "South Park" took aim at that approach, as well as China's policies on free speech, in an episode released on Oct. 2 called "Band in China." "South Park" episodes were subsequently pulled from Chinese streaming sites.

The show disappeared around the time China said it would not broadcast U.S. National Basketball Association games following a tweet by a Houston Rockets executive who backed protests in Hong Kong.

Neither reaction should surprise anyone in Hollywood, said Lindsay Conner, a Los Angeles-based lawyer who has represented Chinese companies in the United States.

"The 'South Park' episode was about as deliberate a provocation as one can get," Conner said. "It's what 'South Park' is about. The response of the Chinese censors was entirely predictable."

China has banned Western entertainment in the past. In August 2018, the country denied entry to Walt Disney Co's "Christopher Robin" film, which featured Winnie the Pooh. The government did not give a reason, but Pooh's appearance has been compared to President Xi Jinping's, and the character has been used as a symbol of resistance to the Chinese government.

"South Park" was running on streaming TV services in China, a market that is less important to Hollywood than the movie business. Movie ticket sales in China reached $9 billion in 2018. Consulting firm PwC projects China will top the United States and Canada as the biggest film market in 2020 with sales reaching $15.5 billion by 2023.

Chinese companies also invest an unknown sum in individual movies such as "Green Book," which was backed by Alibaba Group's Alibaba Pictures. Tencent Holdings Ltd, a Chinese social media and gaming firm, is a co-financier of the upcoming "Terminator: Dark Fate," which will be released by Paramount Pictures. Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc, the same company that distributes "South Park."

Eager to get a greenlight from Chinese censors, Hollywood studios take steps to avoid irking the government.

A script for 2015 sci-fi comedy "Pixels," for example, featured a scene where space aliens blew up China's Great Wall, but the movie released in theaters spared the landmark.

Filmmakers also have recorded scenes in China and featured plotlines where Chinese characters are heroes. In the 2015 film"The Martian," China's space agency helps save an astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who becomes stranded on Mars.

While Hollywood has long tailored programming to the Chinese market, the NBA incident highlights a relatively new risk. With the prevalence of social media, stars of a film could make comments that offend the government, said Marc Ganis, president of Jiaflix, a company that streams movies in China.

"I assure you the studios are paying attention," Ganis said.

"They are also in a no-win position," Ganis added. "They can't tell their talent not to say things because they will get tarred for that. They have to hope their talent thinks before they tweet."

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

24 Comments
Login to comment

https://southpark.cc.com/full-episodes/s23e02-band-in-china

Funny!

11 ( +11 / -0 )

South Park is digging in deep. As they always have.

They've accepted that they are now not part of the Chinese market.

The other side of that is now South Park will now become a focal point for people in China who dream of freedom.

Who would have ever thought that, 20-something seasons ago when South Park first started and the 3rd graders were worried about anal probes from aliens.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

I love South Park even more than ever after this episode!

9 ( +9 / -0 )

I don't mind when future China is show "saving the day" and working productively with other countries.

Showing what could be accomplished is good. It isn't just movies. A number of fiction books I've read also show similar plot lines.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

You are what you eat. If you are fed stupidity, you are stupid.

-12 ( +0 / -12 )

"China has banned Western entertainment in the past." How stupid is that statement.

China has more western movies than the western has Chinese movies. Hollywood sells more movies in China than any other countries on the planet. No one knows that, except Chinese. To the small mind people, a Park is a kingdom.

-15 ( +0 / -15 )

Media companies count on ticket sales in China, which is projected to become the world's largest movie market next year, to bolster their bottom lines. And some films, such as recent Oscar winner "Green Book," rely on Chinese investment to make it to the big screen.

That, along with China's limit of 34 imported movies per year, has forced movie and TV studios to shape programming in a way that satisfies Chinese censors without suppressing the creative freedom of producers and writers.

Hollyweird is in the BUSINESS of making movies. In order to make a movie, or TV show, it requires investors. No investors = no movies. Successful movies requires plenty of paying customers. Repeat customers. No customers = no profits. No profits = no investors.

Just like actors, Hollyweird producers, and writers, will say, and do, anything in order to make themselves attractive to those who would invest in the movie BUSINESS. It seems that China has a lot of money to invest in the BUSINESS of movie-making, but they are not going to invest in movies that insult China.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

China has more western movies than the western has Chinese movies.

How's that dangerous counter revolutionary, Winnie-the-Pooh, doing there?

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Looks like the Chinese censors are alive and well on this site. FTC!

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Word has it they are going to make a comic version of the great leap forwards. A caricature with a Pooh like appearance playing the part of Mao.Billy Bragg is tipped to sing the theme song..!

Our favorite Chinese tragic is going to love it as nobody gets to eat anything...!

Nothing stupid about that...!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

You are what you eat. If you are fed stupidity, you are stupid.

Taking in what the CCP feeds you will do that to you.

China has more western movies than the western has Chinese movies. Hollywood sells more movies in China than any other countries on the planet. No one knows that, except Chinese. To the small mind people, a Park is a kingdom.

Well after reading that I do feel stupid, thanks.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

It's the entire world's dilemma that in order to do business with China, companies and governments are forced to toe the CCP line and allow their own freedom of expression to be co-opted. That is because there is no line between the public and private sector in China, and all Chinese companies operate at the pleasure of the CCP. The CCP seeks to impose the same strictures on any country wishing to do business with or in China that they do on their own people, who live in a surveillance state without freedom of speech, religion, movement, employment, or any other form of civil rights.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

One of the great things about South Park, and what makes them so unique, is that they're neither pro nor anti anything i.e. everyone's fair game (some sort of 'apartisanship'). Long may it continue!

Actually think that a fair few episodes would resonate with the chinese audience, even mainstream. Ppl would quickly/eventually realise that SP are having a go at everyone/everything especially western(ers) and that there's no anti-China agenda.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Ever hear of "kow tow"ing to China? It seems to be still going on today.

Maybe if companies would stop caving in and selling out to this totalitarian bully, I'd respect them more.

Lost a lot of respect for the NBA, Apple, movie studios, and whatever other spineless group compromised their integrity.

*Mad respect for South Park* They're one of the few and brave who still adhere to the true American spirit.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

At one point, Western companies need to realize that there are other markets out there. People speak of China as if they were the El Dorado while it is utterly false. Just across the border to the Southwest of China, there is a market where the population is set to exceed China's very, very soon: India. Until further notice, India is the biggest democracy in the world, and they are not interested in imposing anyting to the West. Furthermore, the middle class in India keeps on growing; they can easily erase whatever revenue is lost because China are pulling out. It's quite simple once Western businesses start waking up: China's loss is India's gain. Play that 4D chess game to great effect, and China will end regretting being a thin-skinned entity.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

You are what you eat. If you are fed stupidity, you are stupid.

Totally agreeable. If you're fed (stupid) Chinese government propaganda, well... You are what you eat, right?

Last night's episode was even funnier. Not just coz Randy said "#$@& the Chinese government" but the part where the neighbor was trying to vaccinate Cartman was hilarious.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Free speech is an integral part of Western society, but it is anathema to dictators. If China wants to be accepted in the West, it is going to have to learn to get along with the idea of freedom of speech.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

How refreshing it is to see a popular program like South Park put principles above profits! It's too bad governments and businesses don't follow South Park's lead.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Star Wars was ruined in part due to kissing up to the Chinese. I'm glad South Park referenced that!

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Freedom of speech includes the freedom to be offended

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Just say NO to communism.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

In the 2015 film "The Martian," China's space agency helps save a astronaut, played by Matt Damon, who becomes stranded on Mars.

Yeah... The Chinese Space Agency was always part of the story. It was in the original novel and they actually simplified it's role in the film. Critics sure jumped all over it as pandering to the Chinese though. You'd think if you're reviewing something that is based on a book, you might want to check that.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As I have been saying for ages & ages THE WEST has played a very LARGE part in creating the MONSTER that China has become!

Now western business & govts too are being reduced to a bunch of ki$$ a$$es  & its become beyond embarrassing to watch!

Its now well past the point, the way China acts THEY have made it crystal clear they are at economic war with the west, ……

Said it before I will say it again its long over due for the west to pull the plug & get the HELL out of China!

The longer we wait the MORE it will cost us in LIVES & LIVELYHOODS!!!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

From Chinpokomon to Winnie the Pooh, South Park continue to be awesome.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites