New book shines light on China's influence over Hollywood

Chris Fenton, former president of DMG Entertainment, recounts experience dealing with Chinese censors

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(YouTube, China Unscripted Podcast image)

(YouTube, China Unscripted Podcast image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An American movie executive recently published a memoir detailing his experiences shepherding Hollywood fare to China and how the nation’s censors are impacting the nature of film production.

Chris Fenton, the former president of DMG Entertainment, produced nearly two dozen films for the Chinese market. In his new book “Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, and American Business,” he details that experience.

“Quite frankly, myself and other cogs and wheels of the machine of the capitalism between the two countries weren’t really thinking about how what we were doing was detrimental to America, or detrimental to the world overall or helping give more leverage or power to the Chinese Communist Party,” he told VOA.

That is no longer the case, he makes clear, especially in the year since the scandal that erupted last October when Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests, and the NBA was met with boycotts and denunciations from the Chinese government and its citizens.

The string of apologies that followed from those involved with the league unnerved an American public unconditioned to seeing public displays of kowtowing to the Chinese regime. It changed the way Hollywood saw its relationship with China too, according to Fenton.

When asked about the extent of China’s influence over Hollywood, he points out that even if a film that may offend censors steers clear of the Chinese market, repercussions will still abound for the studios involved.

Fenton gives the example of the 2012 remake of the 1984 film “Red Dawn,” which had initially intended to cast China as the villain in an update of the role Russia played in the original. Despite being reshot with North Korea as the antagonist, Sony and MGM were still hamstrung in their China business over the course of the next year.

“China does find out about those movies and knows about them, even if that particular film does not get into China,” he told VOA. “China will penalize the studio or filmmakers involved with that particular movie so that they can’t get other movies in.”

One difference between China and other complicated markets Hollywood works with — and which sometimes demand a censored version for local distribution, such as in the Middle East — is that China increasingly demands the censored version be shown to global audiences. Fenton gives the example of Tom Cruise’s jacket in the upcoming “Top Gun” sequel, which originally had Taiwanese and Japanese flags that Paramount Studios offered to blur for the Chinese market; the censors instead demanded the flags not be seen anywhere in the world.

While Fenton has lamented that most in Hollywood will not speak out about these issues for now, in an interview with the China Unscripted Podcast, he indicated that he has seen some encouraging signs in the level of private support he has received.

“I’m hoping over time I can start to pull people out of the closet and get them speaking about this with me,” he said.