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The film censorship law, passed Wednesday but long-mooted, includes a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment and $130,000 in fines for violations. The law gives Hong Kong’s chief secretary broad powers to revoke a film’s license if it is found to “endorse, support, glorify, encourage and incite activities that might endanger national security.”
Instituting greater censorship on artistic freedom will bring Hong Kong further into line with China, where the national censorship board routinely bans content. Arguably, the new law codifies an increasingly restrictive censorship environment, as evidenced earlier this year when the opening film of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Philip Yung’s gangster thriller Where the Wind Blows, was pulled for “technical reasons,” which has become a common industry euphemism for censorship complaints from Beijing.
The new law, however, is likely to reinforce Hong Kong’s decline as a film and television production hub and push more filmmakers unwilling to self-censor to join the thousands of people who have already left the territory since a brutal government crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 2019.
The law also calls into question the content held on internationally owned streaming platforms that have, until now, operated freely in Hong Kong. The likes of Netflix, Amazon and YouTube have been offering their full services in Hong Kong, regional licensing deals permitting, and Disney+ is set to join them next month.
“The new film rules in Hong Kong will have a chilling effect,” director Joe Piscatella told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year when the outline of the new censorship law was floated. Piscatella directed 2017’s Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, the Netflix doc that followed jailed Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong. As of Thursday, Hong Kong time, the doc was still on Netflix’s service in the territory.
“One of the last vestiges of free speech in Hong Kong is now gone. The result is self-censorship by filmmakers who now have to question what might run afoul of the new rules and increased scrutiny by financiers and distributors who now must consider that very same question,” Piscatella added.
Hong Kong passed a wide-ranging National Security Law in June 2020 and its effects have been far-reaching, touching upon politics, the media, education and the arts.
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