McCOMB — When it comes to American foreign relations, who knew it would take Pete Mitchell and Peter Parker to stand up for our country?
Movie fans know these two guys as Maverick and Spider-Man, and a column on The Washington Post website gives them, and the people who make decisions about their most recent films, credit for being among the few in Hollywood willing to ignore the Chinese government.
Columnist Sonny Bunch wrote, “The resounding success of “Top Gun: Maverick” could represent a tipping point in Hollywood’s relationship to China. ... It’s about time American studios recalibrated their priorities to be less reliant on Chinese censors and Chinese moviegoers.”
Tom Cruise’s sequel to the 1986 movie that cemented his box-office appeal has opened to good reviews and a great bottom line. Bunch wrote that the $300 million opening week for “Maverick” puts the film 75% of the way toward profitability — and it is going to make a lot of money without being shown in the world’s biggest market.
A backstory to the movie is that a Chinese company originally was supposed to put up some of the money to make the film. Bunch wrote that some sharp-eyed movie fans noticed that the advance trailer for “Maverick” had altered the fighter pilot’s jacket to remove mentions of Japan and Taiwan. This clearly was a decision made to avoid Chinese sensibilities about two countries its government dislikes.
But when the film landed in movie theaters two weeks ago, the credits at the start of the movie did not include the Chinese company, Tencent Productions. And Japan and Taiwan were back on Maverick’s flight jacket.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese firm backed out of the movie out of fear that the communist government in Beijing would be unhappy with an investment in a movie that celebrates the American military.
Bunch added, “Having lost Chinese funding and being uncertain of receiving a Chinese release, someone somewhere decided the juice was no longer worth the squeeze and undid the vandalism to Mav’s jacket. In addition to simply making aesthetic sense, the move also earned the picture some good will with American audiences who have grown tired of having their blockbusters defaced by Chinese censors.”
Amen to that! American companies do not help our bedrock ideal of free expression when they cave to financial pressure, the way many firms do when it comes to business in China.
Bunch also credits another recent movie, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” for giving up its access to the Chinese market by refusing the government’s request for a major change in the film.
China reportedly wanted Sony Pictures to remove a sequence that included the Statue of Liberty — which is where the end of the movie took place. Sony (a Japanese company, if anyone noticed) and its film partner Disney refused. And the movie about what happens after Peter Parker is revealed as Spider-Man was the first post-COVID theater hit, bringing in $889 million in the United States among its world total of $1.89 billion.
Other big movies are still bending their stories to suit the Chinese communists. But now there is a growing body of evidence that says Hollywood can get along fine without the threat of Chinese censorship — while striking a blow for American values. There are a lot of other American companies doing business in China, and perhaps they, too, will start asking whether the communist government’s demands and requirements are worth the trouble.
That’s the economic power the United States has over China, and the experiences of Maverick and Spider-Man should be kept in mind when the Chinese cast an eye at Taiwan and whine about criticism of their repression in Hong Kong.
Jack Ryan is editor and publisher of The Enterprise-Journal in McComb.