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«Fantastic Beasts 3»: Hollywood is bowing to Chinese censorship – again

Luca Fontana
Zurich, on 14.04.2022
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook

China’s government wants to censor «Fantastic Beasts 3», and Warner Bros. agrees. It’s not the first time Hollywood has given in to the censorship craze. But why?

Censorship. This isn’t uncommon in China’s one-party state, where President Xi Jinping determines what’s politically correct and what isn’t. Even when it comes to Hollywood. The most recent example is «Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,» as film studio Warner Bros. confirmed to industry magazine Variety:

«As a studio, we are committed to protecting the integrity of every film we release. That’s true even when nuanced cuts are needed to respond sensitively to a range of market demands.»

Let me translate this: in order for the film to be shown in China, the studio accepted the Communist Party’s condition to cut six seconds from its 142-minute film. And it worked: «The Secrets of Dumbledore» dominated cinema charts in the People’s Republic last weekend, albeit at a very low level due to the current pandemic.

The production thus joins the long list of «Made in Hollywood, censored for China» films.

You’ll find out exactly what was cut in a moment but beware: SPOILERS AHEAD! If you haven’t seen the movie yet, skip to «The Long List of Chinese Hollywood Censorship» and continue reading there.

Careful, spoilers: what exactly was censored?

According to a Warner Bros. spokesperson, two short lines of dialogue in which Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) talks about his former homosexual relationship with villain Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) have fallen victim to censorship:

«Because I was in love with you.»

«The summer Gellert and I fell in love.»

The studio asserts that the rest of the film remains intact, and that the intimate relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald is still obvious.

Nuanced cuts. Sensitive market requirements. That’s how you do it.

The Long List of Chinese Hollywood Censorship

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has bowed to China’s whims. The potential of Chinese audiences is too great. Movies such as «Warcraft», «Transformers: The Last Knight», «Pacific Rim: Uprising» or «Ready Player One» have grossed more money in China than in the US. Much more. In fact, revenue from China accounted for half of all international sales – that is, excluding the American ones.

The Chinese government has long since taken notice and reacted accordingly protectionist: Currently, a maximum of 34 foreign films are allowed on Chinese screens each year. To protect the domestic film market, officially. Unofficially, it’s more likely the government knows full well that Hollywood has no choice but to bow to the country’s censorship, in part thanks to this limited quota.

Censorship that ignores human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the name of «social stability».

Accordingly, «The Secrets of Dumbledore» is no exception. It toes the line. Take the movie «Bohemian Rhapsody», for example, starring Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. All scenes showing Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality are missing. Even Malek’s Oscar acceptance speech was censored in China. The Elton John biopic «Rocketman», which was released a year later, was flat-out banned. Just like Marc Forster’s zombie apocalypse «World War Z» a few years earlier. Because, as it turns out, Brad Pitt stars in that movie. And he’s been enjoying a general ban from Chinese cinema since his performance in the 1997 movie «Seven Years in Tibet».

Even «James Bond: Skyfall» was only shown in China once references to prostitution in Macau were removed from the film, and all reference to Chinese police violence was removed from the subtitles. There’s no such thing as police violence in China, after all.

Never happened according to China: police violence in Chater Garden, Hong Kong, on 19 January 2020.
Never happened according to China: police violence in Chater Garden, Hong Kong, on 19 January 2020.
Sandra Sanders /

China’s censorship body knows no bounds, no matter how absurd; even outside of political issues. Take «Mission Impossible: III.» Tom Cruise’s Shanghai racing scene was cut, because the clothes hanging on clotheslines might – completely understandably – cast a bad light on the country. I mean, who in the world would hang their clothes out to dry?

However, Disney’s family film «Christopher Robin» takes the cake. It was banned altogether because some people on the Internet joked that Winnie the Pooh resembled Xi Jinping, President of China.

Xi and Winnie the Pooh: separated at birth.
Xi and Winnie the Pooh: separated at birth.

And where’s Hollywood in all this? Busy making absolutely no effort to oppose the censorship-blah of the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, quite the opposite. For there’s simply too much money to be made in the Land of Silk.

In the case of «Iron Man 3», for example, certain scenes were produced specifically for the Chinese market and the Chinese market only. In one such scene, two Chinese doctors talk about the upcoming, difficult operation on the broken Iron Man, aka Tony Stark. Should it not succeed and hence Stark die, the world would blame the Chinese for the death of the popular hero. But, as the concerned head surgeon claims, Stark is first and foremost his friend. And while Stark’s busy taking care of the world, who’s taking care of Stark?

Why, I’m glad you asked. China, of course.

But is Hollywood really cowering to China just for the sake of money?

Why Hollywood kowtows to China

To dismiss the situation with a simple «it’s all just greed» would be too superficial. It’s not just that the world’s most populous country provides one of the largest cinema markets in the world – unsurprisingly. Rather, Hollywood’s American dream factory probably wouldn’t be viable much longer without the Chinese market. What’s ironic is that Hollywood’s addiction is a homegrown one.

It started ten years ago. That’s back when the US government at the time intensified relations with China, together with Hollywood’s Motion Picture Association – the association of the six big Hollywood studios: Paramount, Warner Bros, Sony, Disney, Universal and, since 2019, also Netflix.

Their goal: to simplify Hollywood’s entry into the Chinese market. From the studios’ point of view, in order to max out ticket sales. From the US government’s point of view, perhaps to increase its own cultural influence on China. If people in China watch American movies featuring American products often enough, they may want to buy them. All Hollywood had to do in return was, well… make some nuanced cuts for sensitive market demands.

The plan worked. It turns out, blockbusters such as «Iron Man 3», «Fast & Furious» or «Independence Day» do, in fact, delight the Chinese enough to increase demand for new movie theatres. Over the span of just a few years, thousands of cinema](, multiplex chains and even IMAX halls are built all over the country.

And the Chinese cinema industry boomed for the first time.

Everybody wants China, but China doesn’t want everybody (anymore)

What Hollywood hadn’t considered: the cinema boom also helped the Chinese film industry. More cinemas mean more income to invest directly in domestic film productions. Productions such as «The Wandering Earth», which is the first major Chinese-produced live-action sci-fi epic. A milestone in China’s film industry.

And yes, the movie is on Netflix.

All of a sudden, American productions lost importance in China. Whereas 2016 had five US productions dominating China’s annual top 10, there were two in 2019, one in 2020 and two again in 2021. The Chinese audience seems to have become fed up with America’s putting on airs. Viewers prefer local productions and local actors they can identify with. Productions representing the values and propaganda of the Chinese government. All financed by revenue from former US blockbusters.

And Hollywood continues to fight for Chinese favour.

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I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.» 

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