Most Hollywood stars are ready to protest at the drop of a Trump tweet.
Abortion. Impeachment. Immigration. You name the hot-button issue, and a gaggle of celebrities are ready to boycott, march or send some really angry tweets as needed.
One topic rarely, if ever, gets name-checked by socially aware stars, though. It’s China — and there’s a reason: The Chinese marketplace has become a boon for Tinsel Town. Releases that flop stateside, like last year’s “Tomb Raider” reboot ($58 million gross), often make enough money in China ($78 million) to get the studio back in the black.
Blockbusters that hit pay dirt in the U.S., like “Avengers: Endgame” ($774 million so far) make silly scratch from Chinese audiences, too ($608 million and counting).
China allows only a set number of foreign films into its theaters. That results in U.S.-based studios dangling Chinese-friendly elements into the stories, from adding popular Asian stars to storylines that fawn over aspects of Chinese culture, in order to curry favor in Beijing.
“Iron Man 3,” for example, featured sequences shot specifically for Chinese audiences — attempts so brazen that even some locals were alarmed at their bluntness.
That leads to a problematic question.
China’s record on human rights abuses is notorious, and could be getting worse. The nation’s restrictions on free speech alone would seemingly upset stars able to say precisely what they want, when they want, without any ramifications — at least in the West.
The abuses extend beyond speech, though.
Recent reports say minority Muslims in China are being put into “concentration camps.” More than a million Muslims are allegedly being detained, and the conditions are reported to be severe.
Former detainees who spoke to Reuters have described being tortured during interrogation in the camps, living in crowded cells and being subjected to a brutal daily regimen of party indoctrination that drove some people to suicide.
Christians in China face a similar nightmare. A contributor to The Hill shared how the rising number of Christians are seen as a threat to the government:
“Pastor Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, an organization that monitors and studies human rights abuses and Christian persecution in China, has researched the regime’s own documents and found that:
‘For Christians alone, last year we documented persecution against 1,265 churches, with the number of people persecuted over 223,000. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2016, there were 762 cases of persecution, according to our documentation, with the number of people persecuted 48,000. It is almost five times [as much].’"
Alyssa Milano, arguably the most politically active actress in Hollywood, isn’t raging in ALL CAPS about either situation. In fact, it’s hardly a cause celebre on the West Coast. There, the celebrities are typically silent on the issue.
This isn’t a recent trend, though.
Oscar-winner Quentin Tarantino had to nip and tuck some of his signature violence out of 2012's “Django Unchained” in order to get it past Chinese censors.
It flopped all the same. Still, had any American-based distributors asked the auteur for similar trims, chances are that Tarantino would have blown up at the mere suggestion. And his colleagues would likely have had his back.
One veteran star is a nagging critic of Chinese policy, and he’s been paying the price for it for some time. Richard Gere, friend of the Dalai Lama and defender of Tibet, claims his Chinese critiques directly impacted his screen choices.
The “Pretty Woman” star still works regularly but primarily via independent features. The actor remains a sturdy on-screen presence, his iconic mug barely dimmed by time. So why aren’t we seeing him in major studio fare? The Hollywood Reporter explains why:
“But now that Hollywood is cozying up ever closer to the authoritarian superpower, and studios are careful not to offend the government that oversees what has become the world's second-biggest box-office market, the star also is paying a price. "There are definitely movies that I can't be in because the Chinese will say, 'Not with him,' " he (Gere) acknowledges matter-of-factly. "I recently had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with me because it would upset the Chinese."
George Clooney made headlines earlier this year when he announced that he’d be boycotting hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei based on that country’s barbaric policies against adultery and gay sex.
The boycott has worked, at least for now.
Clooney hasn’t made a similar stand for Christians and Muslims being persecuted in China, though. Nor have his starry colleagues. Don’t expect it to happen any time soon, either, at least as long as American movies make serious coin in China.
That’s even more true with President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Twitter's algorithm boosts right-leaning content, internal study finds Ohio Democrat calls Vance an 'ass----' over Baldwin tweet Matt Taibbi says Trump's rhetoric caused public perception of US intelligence services to shift MORE — despised across Hollywood — playing hardball with the Chinese government regarding trade and tariffs. Attacking Chinese policy now would put them on the same side as the president, and that simply cannot stand.