Hollywood with Chinese Characteristics (Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You!)

By Laura K. Bisbee

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A young Chinese couple purchases tickets for a movie in Hangzhou, China. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Hollywood executives share a distaste for China’s annual movie quota. The Chinese government permits 34 foreign movies to play in Chinese theaters per year, and only after extensive examination and approval. Additionally, Hollywood producers and executives face government-imposed blackout periods (used to promote domestic films) which delay movie marketing and a substantial cut in revenue from distribution fees. “The studios want everything: more films, more revenue, more control over their own destiny,” an unnamed film executive tells Variety reporter Patrick Frater. “But ultimately you get only what the Chinese government wants to give you.”

When a foreign film enters China, it first undergoes the scrutiny China’s official media regulation board, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT).The board encompasses a variety of government agencies and interest groups and includes filmmakers, academics, and public officials. While the board tightly guards its film evaluation standards, China’s Film Industry Promotion law, passed last March, reveals several clues as to what makes and does not make a foreign film “China-ready.”

According to Xinhua, China’s state-controlled media, the law stipulates that both domestic and foreign movies must promote “socialist core values” and the “dignity, honor, and interests” of China. In other words, any film material disparaging of China’s national image is on a fast track to censorship. SAPPRFT also frowns upon content with excessive nudity, drug abuse, and an “overt admiration for Western lifestyles.” Some taboo topics, like SAPPRFT’s dislike of time travel, are more puzzling. According to SAPPRFT, time travel, although not explicitly banned from movies, “disrespects history.” Film critic and journalist Raymond Zhou Liming, however, has a different perspective. As he explains to Hollywood Reporter columnist Johnathan Landreth, SAPPRFT dislikes time travel and other science fiction storylines because they often used as “an excuse to comment on current affairs.”

Despite the maze of bureaucratic red tape and regulations, Hollywood continuously panders to SAPPRFT’s tastes—altering, adding or even deleting entire scenes from movies. These days it’s not surprising to see two versions of a film, one for the world and one for China. The producers of Karate Kid (2010), for instance, edited out 12 minutes of the movie after SAPPRFT expressed concern over the film’s Chinese antagonist. In Iron Man III (2013) and Passengers (2016), producers added scenes with Chinese actors to make the films more marketable to Chinese audiences. Increasingly, Hollywood will strategically employ Chinese actors, dialogue and locations in a movie to win SAPPRFT’s seal of approval.

What is it about making movies in China that makes Hollywood so eager to dish out concessions like candy? “When China was not on the market, you just followed the American way,” actor Jackie Chan tells Times reporter Hannah Beech. “But these days, all the writers, producers — they think about China. Now China is the center of everything.”

The Chinese box office is the fastest-growing box offices in the world, accelerating in value from $2.7 billion in 2012 to $6.6 billion in 2016. The second largest box office market globally after the United States, movie admissions in China are projected to continuously rise over the next few years. Not surprisingly, Hollywood is more than willing to play SAPPRFT’s movie-making version of Tetris when a significant share of its revenue comes from a rapidly growing Chinese audience. Not having a foot in the lucrative Chinese market means not making a profit.

As the Chinese market for movies expands, Hollywood will continue to give chase despite SAPPRFT’s rules and regulations. This strange courtship— at least for now—is here to stay. “We have both big pockets and a big stomach,” says Li Ruigan in Time Magazine. “China has money to spend on Hollywood and this incredible market at home. The China-Hollywood connection will sustain itself for a very long time.”

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Why Recent Developments in Women’s Rights and Hate Speech Crackdown are Curtailed by the ‘War Against Dabbing’.

Saudi Arabia’s societal transformation and reform movement, a core part of Saudi Vision 2030, has recently been given a boost by a series of decisions to bolster women’s rights and a serious effort to crack down on hate speech. In women’s rights, the Saudi Justice Ministry granted four landmark decisions regarding the protection of minors against marriage, divorce and alimony, child custody, and facilitating women lawyers practice of law. In the area of hate speech crackdown, public pressure through social media channels prompted the summoning and impending indictment of a number of Twitter users by the newly formed Department of Public Prosecution for hateful and sectarian tweets. While the aforementioned developments are clearly steps forward in women’s rights and tolerance, a much-publicized ‘war’ against dabbing in the Kingdom does much to tarnish the recent developments and derails momentum for progressive change. The campaign against dabbing puts into question the seriousness of propelling Saudi society to move in the direction of progressive change, and worse, puts a lid on the genuine and unprecedented recent reform progress.

 

Following the arrest of a TV personality in Taif after he dabbed during a musical competition, the campaign against the dance went viral and prompted bewilderment from social media users and media outlets around the world. The campaign was launched by the General Directorate of Narcotics Control (GDNC), who claim that the

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Saudi singer Rabeh Saqr was formally warned by the GDNC following his use of the dab during performances

move signifies and encourages the use of drugs. Dabbing is a hip-hop dance move that involves dropping one’s head with one arm raised, closely resembling an attempt to suppress a loud sneeze. It has been used by many famous people around the globe, from soccer sensation Paul Pogba to 2016 Democratic presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.

 

The campaign picked up national attention when the GDNC formally warned famous Saudi singer Rabeh Saqr about the move, following his use of the ‘dab’ to rile up crowds at his live shows.

A similar global reaction to the campaign was witnessed when a 2001 fatwa against Pokémon was revived in 2016 with the surging popularity of Pokémon Go, claiming the game was ‘devious’ and ‘un-Islamic’.

The issue with campaigns like this is that they often overshadow advancements in many avenues on the opposite side of the spectrum that are occurring simultaneously. During the same period, significant progressive decisions were rolled out regarding women’s rights and hate speech crackdown.  

Legal proceedings to control the marriage of minors were approved, an alimony fund for divorcees and their children was established, while the Supreme Judicial Court also rolled out policy maintaining that women no longer have to sue to keep custody of their children.  The Justice Ministry also went forward with approving a three-year law degree that is aimed at ending exploitation of women law professionals who were working as interns and were often constrained from practicing law by their employers, by granting them a license to practice law at the conclusion of the new program.

In the realm of hate speech and tolerance, a Sunni cleric was summoned for potential indictment for chastising those who were mourning the death of Kuwaiti actor Abdulhussein Abdulredha, a Shiite Muslim. The cleric went on to describe Shiite Muslims as “rejectionists” and denied their status as Muslims. A Saudi government statement warned that posts containing “harmful content to the community” would be referred to the prosecutor, signaling a more intensified crackdown on hate speech.

 

Progressive change and societal transformation to open up Saudi society are core themes of Vision 2030, as laid out by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Such themes fall in

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Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Photo credit: Saudi Press Agency

line with the women’s rights and hate speech crackdown developments mentioned in the article, while with campaign against dabbing does not. MbS stated in an interview his serious ambition for progress, “I’m young. Seventy percent of our citizens are young; we don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now. We want, as the Saudi people, to enjoy the coming days, and concentrate on developing our society and developing ourselves as individuals and families, while retaining our religion and customs. We will not continue to be in the post-’79 era. That age is over.” Such a statement by MbS, who is at the helm of leading sweeping reforms, affirms the need for a transformative reform movement that bridges Saudis with the rest of the world.

 

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Mexican Vigilantes Fight the Drug Cartels

By Marquise Nichols

When government officials don’t put an effort into solving crimes, the community might take matters into its own hands.  This is exactly what is happening in cities across Mexico. Citizens are taking law enforcement into their own hands. For the past few  years, there has been an increase in vigilantes who have been fighting back against Mexico’s drug cartel and other violent criminals. Most recently four thieves were killed by a vigilante when they attempted to rob commuters on a bus on the outskirts of Mexico City, David Agren reported in The Guardian. One passenger got up from his seat and shot the robbers. He then returned the stolen items to their rightful owners.

The Guardian story says police are still looking for the shooter and information on his whereabouts, but no one is cooperating. Instead, people are praising the unidentified man and police have no leads, Agren reports. The people of Mexico are simply fed up  with their government’s failure to combat the violence of criminals and the cartels.

Mexican drug cartels have long had a great deal of immunity in the country. The illegal drug trade has a huge impact on the country. According to Jason M. Breslow of Frontline News , over 164,000 people have been killed between 2007 and 2014 as a result of the war on drugs. Efforts by the Mexican government have failed to combat the massacre of Mexican citizens  and there have been reports of cooperation between the cartels and political officials. Vigilantes in Mexico have gotten so much notoriety that they were the subject of an award-winning documentary “Cartel Land” by Matthew Heineman. Cartel Land follows Autodefensas, a Mexican vigilante group, as they fight the drug lords and try to gain back their land.

marquise-picture1The recent killing of the bus robbers is just one of many incidents involving vigilantes in Mexico. Last month, six suspected thieves were kidnapped, and they had their hands amputated by a vigilante group called the  Elite Anti-Rat Group, reports the Australian News. One of the victims was killed and the rest refused to say what happened, leaving the police with no leads. The statistics service INGEI  found that over 98 percent of crimes go unsolved in Mexico, according to The Guardian . “This is the reason the  people have less patience and expect less from the government,” Gerardo Priego Tapia, director of an anti-kidnapping group. told the Guardian reporter . 

While the avengers or “justiciero” are getting a lot praise, others are questioning their actions. Elida, a mother of eight children who fled Michoacán last month and is living in a migrant shelter in Tijuana with her 14-year-old daughter, is not an advocate for the so-called vigilantes. She told The Daily Beast reporter Andera Noel that she witnessed a vigilante group shoot down a helicopter in retaliation.  A helicopter that was supposed to rescue her and her children. She says she fears the criminals, the police and the vigilantes. “They are all the same, but have different interests,” she said. The police, criminals and vigilantes are all  “crooked, and all colluded.”

So who questions those who think of themselves as the Robin Hoods of the world, and what happens when they become the villains?

Photograph by Mich Elizalde courtesy of StockSnap

 

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Duterte: Manipulating his Alliances

By Marina Mangie

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly shown that he is not afraid of ruffling feathers when it comes to relationships with other nations. Duterte has threatened multiple times to break ties with the United States, leading China to come forward with concessions and deals, hoping to woo the island nation away from its allegiance with the United States.

He has since rescinded his threats, stating that the Philippines will be separating its foreign policy from the United States, but not severing ties, according to CNN. However, the longtime alliance with the U.S. military has some in Duterte’s camp questioning the decision. “Are we throwing away decades of military partnership, tactical proficiency, compatible weaponry, predictable logistics and soldier-to-soldier camaraderie just like that?” asked former president Fidel Ramos, who recently resigned from his position as Duterte’s envoy to China, according to The Washington Post.

The loss of Ramos is one of the first significant consequences that Duterte has faced as a result of his offensive behavior towards both the United States and the international community.

The Washington Post reported that the U.S. government is also beginning to take a more formal stand against the human rights violations associated with Duterte’s war on narcotics by refusing a sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippine police.

The Philippine National Police basketball team and crew of the USS Connecticut submarine play a friendly basketball game in Olongapo City.

The Philippine National Police basketball team and crew of the USS Connecticut submarine play a friendly basketball game in Olongapo City.

Based on recent negotiations with the United States and China, however, Duterte has shown that he knows how to manipulate the situation in his favor. The New York Times reported that Duterte’s current strategy hails back to the Cold War, where the tactic of threatening to switch allegiances from the United States  to Russia, or from Russia to the United States was how many leaders of small countries got concessions from the superpowers.

In Duterte’s case, this means he negotiated with China to allow Filipino fishermen into a disputed area of the South China Sea, near a Chinese-controlled shoal that may contain a military base in the future. China also offered him $9 billion in low-interest loans for infrastructure and other projects in the Philippines, says The New York Times.

But he is still keeping the alliance with the U.S. government intact, so the Philippines continues to benefit from U.S. military protection. His threats to break ties allowed him to make headway with negotiations with China, but as soon as he got what he wanted, he backed down to maintain the relationship with the United States.

Duterte has done well for himself, as he maintains his image as the champion of the Philippines, focusing on increasing benefits domestically, but he has also lessened the pressure from the U.S. government regarding the extrajudicial killings and other abuses in his war on drugs, reports NPR.

What remains to be seen is how Duterte handles his balancing act back home. He still has high approval ratings, according to The Washington Post, but as Ramos’ defection demonstrates, he risks alienating his own cabinet. Ruffling the feathers of other nations can work to his advantage on the international stage, but he must tread carefully in the domestic political climate.

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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South Africa to Leave International Criminal Court

By Alma Burke

Since reforming its government of apartheid and its election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994, South Africa has become an international symbol of hope and justice throughout Africa. The government’s recent decision to leave the International Criminal Court (ICC) has sent shockwaves throughout the continent and begs the question, do politics outweigh justice?

South Africa decided last month to withdraw from the ICC, after refusing to implement an arrest warrant on Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir issued by the court. The Sudanese president flew to South Africa for a leadership summit, and the South African government claims it granted immunity to all heads of state who attended.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

President al-Bashir was indicted in 2009 by the ICC and the South African High Courts of war crimes and genocide in Darfur, Sudan. According to NPR, when asked about South Africa’s lack of compliance in his arrest, a government official said the government did not want to carry out the ICC’s arrest warrant because it could cause “regime change.”

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who is South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, signed the document indicating the country’s withdrawal. South Africa is not the only country to leave the ICC. Burundi and Gambia also filed withdrawal receipts to the ICC days before South Africa, reports The New York Times. All three countries argue that the court disproportionately focuses on war crimes in Africa more than any other continent. Historically, the African Union has discouraged member states from cooperating with the ICC in response to these accusations.

The ICC was created in 1998 under the Rome Statute, which is controlled by the United Nations. It was officially implemented in 2002. The court has 124 ratified member states, including 34 in Africa, and is the first international legal body with permanent jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes, states Aljazeera. This means the court has the power to arrest, indict and convict crimes that are committed internationally, with member state assistance. Nine of the last 10 ICC investigations involved African leaders and war criminals, including President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President al-Bashir.

The creation of the ICC was partially in response to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which caused the death of an estimated one million people in 100 days. But South Africa’s decision to leave the court is more significant than the decision by Gambia and Burundi. Former President Nelson Mandela was a champion of the high court and was one of its founders. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu has said the country’s decision to leave is a betrayal of the justice fought for by Nelson Mandela.

South Africa’s advocacy and influence within the ICC has been a key factor in its effectiveness as an international criminal court. However, since al-Bashir’s indictment, the South African government’s support has waned and the discussions to leave began last year, reported The Guardian. Scholars in international relations believe that South Africa’s decision will be a precursor to a mass exodus of African nations, which will be detrimental to the ICC and its mission. The human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, has been especially critical of the country for its decision to leave, stating: “South Africa’s proposed withdrawal from the International Criminal Court shows startling disregard for justice from a country long seen as a global leader on accountability for victims of the gravest crimes.”

The International Criminal Court and its function represent the importance of international relations and influence. South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC has the potential to affect the entire body of the high court because of the support and influence it provides to the international court. It also speaks to a skewed political system that protects leaders accused of terrible crimes, while doing nothing for the victims of those crimes.

Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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