The Battle Between Hollywood And China

The Battle Between Hollywood And China

Nationalism at the box office.
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A Kickstarter was recently started to fund Wolverine Entertainment, a production company aimed at fighting Chinese influence in Hollywood.

While it's doubtful that a single independent production company could fight the influence of China's growing film industry, they are responding to a very evident, and possibly concerning, trend.

While many American industries struggle to keep up with foreign competitors, Hollywood continues to dominate the international market. Other nations export manufactured goods and raw materials, but America's biggest export is its culture. The prospect of China coopting the international entertainment market is a tangible threat to the U.S. economy, considering the countless jobs created by Hollywood, but it represents an even bigger threat to the American ego.

The key to understanding the tension here is to see the fundamental difference between the Chinese and American film industries. According to a law passed last year, the Chinese film industry is obligated to serve the interests of the people and government of China. In the United States, however, the film industry is free to pursue its own interests, which may be distinct or every contrary to those of the U.S. government.

As much as Hollywood is accused of serving a variety of agendas, it is primarily interested in making money. In the interest of profit, Hollywood's biggest films are increasingly being directed at Chinese audiences, sometimes moreso than Americans. The most recent Transformers movie, for instance, made more money in China than it did in the U.S.

The problem here is that the global box office does not favor intelligent or well-written films. In order to translate easily across cultural boundaries, films have to focus on special effects over dialogue, character development, or any sort of social commentary. In essence, the wider the target audience becomes, the more bland and indistinct the movie must be. Any film that does not meet China's standards can expect to lose millions at the box office as a result. In other words, don't expect a blockbuster chronicling the Tiananmen Square protests anytime soon.

For all of China's influence in Hollywood, the Chinese film industry's attempts to go international continue to struggle. Last year's American-Chinese co-production The Great Wall seemingly set this cause back. The film likely covered its expenses, but it was a commercial disappointment in the U.S. In fact, the film's use of American stars in a Chinese narrative proved controversial, and it's possible American audiences would have responded better without being pandered to.

China's influence on American films is not ideal for a variety of reasons. However, it's important to remember that Hollywood became the cultural force it is today by drawing talent from around the world. In fact, if there is a silver lining to this trend, it's that American audiences may be exposed more to other cultures. After all, if China becomes an exporter of quality films, it would be downright xenophobic to reject them solely for their country of origin.

More quality films would be a win for filmgoers, regardless of where they are produced. The real problem is not China, it's bad movies.

Cover Image Credit: Universal Pictures

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