In 2014, when Warner Bros. recruited LeBron James to star in his Space jam Following this, the film was designed to appeal above all to the powerful Chinese market. After all, James was a huge commodity in the basketball-obsessed country where his signature Nike sneakers are made. Along the way, the future Hall of Fame avoided stinging the Chinese bear, even if it meant sparking outrage when he slammed Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in 2019 for tweeting his support. to protesters in Hong Kong, calling him “uninformed” – a notable move given James’ vocal stance on issues of police brutality and former President Trump’s so-called travel ban for Muslims. At the time, videos of police crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement were circulating widely despite it being well reported that more than a million Uyghur Muslims were being held in internment camps.
Despite attempts to overtake Chinese censors, Space Jam: a new legacy never received a release in China this summer and only scored $ 162.8 million worldwide – an average figure even given the coronavirus pandemic. Always, Space jam was not alone. Disney received the same cold shoulder when it comes to its Marvel tent poles Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings and the eternal, films built around Chinese talents in order to make a giant projection on the market. But in vain. Neither of the films have been shown in the country which continues to be hot for reported human rights violations. Hollywood’s silence on these abuses grew deafening as other industries and entities began to confront China.
In fact, 2021 – with its diminishing economic returns in the country – could mark the year that finally cooled the Hollywood-China romance. “I think we’re still pushing our way through this [new paradigm]”said Ann Sarnoff, President and CEO of WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group. THR, in a large interview in October, about Space jam and the shortage of Hollywood arching tent poles in China. “Obviously, there have been a lot of geopolitical meta-issues with the changes in our government and trying to figure out what the new relationship will be with the Biden administration. China is clearly building its own local theater business. The numbers are very important, and we would like to believe that we are going to be a big part of their future. But honestly, we’re taking one movie at a time. I’m not making big predictions because I don’t know, but it’s something we’re very, very aware of and at the forefront because when you do your ultimates and green lights, China was a big part of it. .
The turnaround in China started to accelerate last year. In 2021, only 25 US films hit theaters nationwide, many of which were minor indie titles instead of studio tents. In contrast, some 45 Hollywood films were screened on Chinese screens in 2019. This is forcing the big studios to pivot on their Chinese ambitions, mainly because there is little to no growth to be achieved in the country in the current climate. . Diplomatic relations between the United States and China have simply deteriorated to such an extent that it no longer matters how accommodating Hollywood behaves in the marketplace – the next phase of the Xi Era Jinping will likely be defined by less space for Western cultural content.
Despite China’s success in keeping COVID-19 cases close to zero, the theatrical film market is still far from complete. As of December 13, China’s total box office revenue in 2021 was $ 7.05 billion, down 26.2% from $ 9.56 billion during the same period in 2019. In the past, whenever multiplexes needed a boost in sales, regulators would simply turn on the Hollywood tap. from exits to juice sales, even if that meant releasing more than the 34 U.S. revenue-sharing titles that Beijing was required to allow into the market under a previous trade agreement. This did not happen this year. Instead, bankable Hollywood titles have remained on the shelves due to perceived political offenses or for no discernible reason. Among them: Black Widow, Venom: let there be carnage and, now, potentially, Spider-Man: No Path Home.
At the same time, Hollywood has lost all semblance of moral elevation. Few people lost the fact that the industry remained silent when global superstar Fan Bingbing passed away in 2018 (including his agency, CAA). In contrast, the Women’s Tennis Association this month decided to withdraw all tournaments in China following a similar disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai. (Some fear the Chinese doubles champion may be in custody after making sexual assault allegations against a former Communist Party leader.)
“As Hollywood’s risk-reward calculus for China begins to get muddier and muddier, an entity, be it a celebrity, an athlete, or a business, is gearing up. to do essentially what Muhammad Ali did, which is to take a direct hit, in short. term, on revenue but in the long run create a brand that is bigger than what they were originally known for, ”says Blockers producer Chris Fenton, whose 2020 book, Feeding the dragon: in the trillion dollar dilemma facing Hollywood, the NBA, and corporate America, explored the Chinese minefield.
Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter Freedom, for its part, seized the opportunity, lambasting Xi for the country’s treatment of Muslims and calling on James for looking away. “Moral money for the ‘king’,” Kanter Freedom tweeted Nov. 18 ahead of a Celtics-Lakers game. “Sad and disgusting how these athletes claim to care about social justice. They really do “shut up and dribble” when Big Boss says so. Did you find out about the slave labor that made your shoes or isn’t it part of your research? On December 14, Kanter Freedom appeared on MSNBC with a t-shirt that read, “Taiwan is not China.” (China has banned broadcasts of the Celtics in the country.)
Meanwhile, the planned US diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics will only intensify China’s growing hostility to American culture. The question now remains whether Hollywood will continue to bow down to a small financial rise. But Fenton insists that taking the Chinese losses now will open up new avenues for growth and expand fan bases. He adds: “Global consumers will prove that capitalism can coexist by doing the right thing. “
This story first appeared in the December 15 issue of Hollywood journalist magazine. Click here to subscribe.