China is influencing Hollywood studios and using American films to promote communist propaganda as part of a grand strategy seeking global hegemony, according to a report by two Army officers.
Hollywood has established financial ties with the Chinese film industry, one of the world’s largest movie markets. Once a financial relationship is established, the studios are beholden to the wishes of the party that controls all filmmaking operations in China, the report said.
“The resulting financial influence has given Chinese film studios the placement and access necessary to change the content of American films, while forcing American film studios to self-censor to appease Beijing’s sensibilities,” states the report written by Maj. Morgan A. Martin and Maj. Clinton J. Williamson and published by the Naval Postgraduate School.
The China-Hollywood financial ties allow China’s ruling Communist Party to exercise a large degree of influence over American studios in terms of content in their movies.
“Disney, for example, worked closely with the China Film Group Corp. during the production of the live-action 2020 ‘Mulan’ remake, going as far as to get the script approved by the Central Propaganda Department,” the report said.
Other films were modified by removing elements that clashed with Chinese soft-power ambitions.
Chinese diplomats forced Sony Pictures to make drastic changes to the 2014 remake of “Robocop,” as well as the 2012 film “Red Dawn.” Filmmakers for “Red Dawn” altered the script to turn an invading Chinese army into North Korean troops.
A third case mentioned in the report examined emails showing an American film executive arguing with Chinese officials over what was allowed or unacceptable to the Chinese government, such as whether or not the 2015 animated film “Pixels” could show the destruction of the Great Wall.
The report lists 147 films made with studios linked to the Chinese government between 2003 and 2021, either through direct investment or co-production. Thirty-three of the films contained China elements skewed to support Beijing’s official line, the report said, hoping to influence American film audiences into adopting the Chinese viewpoint.
“Propagandists can take advantage of an audience’s lack of resistance while watching a film by obfuscating influential messaging within the film’s narrative,” the report said. “In this way, the narrative serves as a proverbial Trojan Horse that a propagandist can use to infiltrate the ‘defensive structures’ of the viewer’s resistance.”
“Given Americans’ overwhelmingly negative view of the PRC, any attempts [to] cultivate soft power by overtly disseminating pro-China messaging in films would be rejected by American audiences outright,” the report said. “Surreptitiously obfuscating pro-China messages in films’ narratives would likely be more successful.”
The goal is to improve Americans’ perceptions of China through soft power and for achieving “national rejuvenation,” the report said, concluding that the U.S. government should take steps to mitigate Chinese influence over the entertainment industry.
Film studios should be required to post a disclaimer in the opening credits of all films revealing that a movie was funded in part by a company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The report also endorses legislation first introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, that would limit U.S. government financial or technical assistance for all films shown in China. The report urges adding fines based on a percentage of profits for films promoting Chinese propaganda.