Chinese censors eliminate ‘goons’, downplay ‘Big Bang theory’

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Unhappy with the ending of “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” in which the titular supervillain Gru and his accomplice Wild Knuckles evade arrest alongside three yellow bean-shaped minions, Chinese censors gave him some a new. Instead, audiences were treated to a slideshow in which Gru renounced world domination in favor of the joys of fatherhood (to his three daughters, in accordance with the new “Three Child Policy) and Wild Knuckles was sentenced to 20 years in prison, during which time he embraced his love of acting:

Prior to its release, “Minions” was considered unlikely to fall under censors’ red lines. His exit was approved over other Hollywood offers such as “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” rejected after Sony Films refused to cut scenes showing the Statue of Liberty, and “Lightyear,” unapproved due to a scene depicting a kiss between a female astronaut and his female partner. Michael Berry, a UCLA professor and scholar of Chinese cinema, told Fortune that censors were likely to see Minions 2 as “less politically threatening…like a movie aimed at a much younger audience.” Nevertheless, the censors felt compelled to edit the film. At The New York Times, Tiffany May reported on audience reaction to censorship, which some may have endured as a price of access to Western films but others found infantilizing:

Bai Xiaochuan, a 21-year-old university student from Guangxi province, called the conclusion goofy and ill-suited to a cheerfully unruly animated comedy. Still, she was happy to be able to see the film.

“A lot of movies that I was looking forward to watching didn’t make it to theaters,” she said. “I personally think the addition of these ‘special purposes’ is still acceptable, albeit barely.”

[…] A popular movie blog, “Du Sir,” said the altered plots of the movie “Minions,” which runs a minute longer in Chinese theaters, and other movies are condescending to Chinese audiences.

“Why doesn’t the rest of the world need that extra minute? a blog writer wrote on Saturday. “And why are we the only ones who need special guidance and protection, lest a cartoon have the power to corrupt?” [Source]

Earlier this year, Tencent’s streaming version of “Fight Club” ended with “all criminals” arrested or committed to mental institutions. The cuts were later reversed after public outrage. Nevertheless, the list of films and shows subject to similar censorship is long – “Naked Ambition” and “Lord of War” are just two examples. Censors also regularly excise content they deem unsuitable for audiences. Gay scenes in “Bohemian Rhapsody” and references to sex and homosexual relationships in the sitcom “Friends” were removed when released in China. Censors also cut Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and BTS cameos from a ‘Friends’ reunion episode due to various past missteps: Gaga’s 2014 meeting with the Dalai Lama, Bieber’s 2016 visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, and a 2020 incident in which BTS neglected to mention the sacrifices made by Chinese troops during of the Korean War commemoration. China’s censorship regime is now enforced in Hong Kong, where a screening of ‘Losing Sight of a Longed Place’, a film about a gay man’s struggles in the city, was canceled after the Office for Film , Newspaper, and Article Administration of Hong Kong has asked the filmmakers to excise a touching scene the umbrella movement 2014. American film studios often censor themselves to gain access to China, particularly in censor any mention of Tibet. “World War Z” removed a mention of Lhasa, and “Doctor Strange” recast a Tibetan character as a Celtic woman in proactive measures to comply with likely censorship demands. A 2020 PEN America report thoroughly analyzed Hollywood self-censorship. Chinese censors are still unhappy with American filmmakers. In August, the deputy propaganda minister told a press conference that American filmmakers should show more respect for the culture, customs and habits of Chinese audiences— even as the public ridicules censorship, as the Washington Post’s Lyric Li reports:

A senior Chinese official this month told American filmmakers to show more cultural respect, in a rare public remark about censorship after China recently shunned a series of American blockbusters, including the last spider-man movie and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

“We hope America can continue to improve the quality of its films on the basis of respecting our culture, customs and viewing habits,” said Sun Yeli, deputy propaganda minister of the Party. Chinese communist. said at a press conference last Thursday. “We will import from all the countries that make better films and titles that [better] correspond to the taste of the Chinese public.

[…] The [Minions 2] edit sparked a torrent of mockery online, with a Weibo post that compiled the ridiculousness of the ending by getting some 60,000 likes in 24 hours. Another WeChat blog post received over 100,000 views before it was deleted. Film critics have acknowledged the attempt to please China – which has become the world’s largest cinema market by box office receipts during the pandemic – by including Chinese elements such as the dragon dance and the ‘acupuncture. But they lamented that the version they were able to watch was “condescending”. [Source]

Despite its censored ending, “Minions 2” recorded the biggest box office opening night for a Hollywood film in China since the pandemic began in 2020a fact that Chinese film industry officials affirmed “would increase the confidence of Chinese filmmakers in the rapid recovery of the industry”. The Global Times itself used the film as a teaching tool in its “Learning Chinese” section, which featured Chinese translations of iconic lines such as “Who are these toddlers?” And where did they find so much denim?

A deep dive into the mechanics of film and television censorship in China, from the digital publication The Pudding, discovered major themes of censored content and revealed double standards in the app. By analyzing deleted scenes from the series “The Big Bang Theory”, Manyun Zou, Russell Goldenberg and Rob Smith found six major categories of censored content, listed by decreasing frequency: sex, LGBTQ+ themes, disrespect for the China or allies like North Korea. or Russia, illegal activities, religion and drug addiction. The analysis also revealed double standards applied to foreign media. For example, a six-second kiss scene was cut from “The Big Bang Theory,” while a 42-second kiss scene in the Chinese drama “Because of Love” kind of skipped the line. Similar inconsistencies were found regarding censors’ reactions to depictions of bare backs or the killing of animals. Notably, the show’s cuts were retroactive: “The Big Bang Theory” originally aired in China without major cuts. The report’s lead author, Manyun Zou, only noticed the changes when rewatching in 2022. The report’s authors also explained the most likely reason for these censorship inconsistencies:

Since China does not have a video rating system in place, removing this content is always justified on grounds involving children – children need to be exposed to the “main melody” so they can grow up healthy. “Main Melody” is an informal name for productions that fall within patriotic or pro-Communist themes.

[…] Such unequal treatment is bizarre. According to government guidelines, imported productions have only one more prohibited content category to consider than national – imported productions must not show anything that could harm the physical and mental health of minors. Other types of prohibited content, including nudity, violence and promotion of negative parts of society, are the same for domestic and imported productions.

Since there are no legal roots, it may come down to self-policing by Chinese companies, which actually make the cuts and seek official approval before airing the show. Self-monitoring can be rather relaxed, but it can result in several months-long scrutiny cycles. [Source]

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