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BEIJING – Oliver Stone caused embarrassment, a little outrage and a fair helping of delight at the Beijing International Film Festival when the Platoon director urged Chinese filmmakers to deal with controversial historical issues such as the painful legacy of the country’s founder Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution he unleashed half a century ago.
“Mao Zedong has been lionized in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticized. It’s about time. You got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution. You do that, you open up, you stir the waters and you allow true creativity to emerge in this country. That would be the basis of real co-production,” said Stone, speaking at a panel on co-production which also included Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron and Paramount Pictures COO Frederick Huntsberry, and was moderated by Zhang Xun, president of China Film Co-production Corporation.
MPAA president Christopher Dodd gave a talk earlier in the panel, and senior figures from China’s Film Bureau and the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV were also in attendance.
Chairman Mao is a revered figure in China, and his face gazes impassively at Tiananmen Square from the Forbidden City. He adorns every banknote. However, there is acceptance of the malign role he played in organizing Stalinesque purges, causing famine with the disastrous agricultural experiment known as the Great Leap Forward, in which millions died, and in orchestrating the Cultural Revolution, an experiment in ideological extremism orchestrated by Mao nearly 50 years ago and in which many of today’s leadership suffered, including President Xi Jinping.
Even though Mao was largely responsible for the excesses of those years, the official line is that his legacy is 30 percent bad, 70 percent good, and the Communist Party he created is still in power since the 1949 revolution. And talking about Mao’s legacy in public is just not done.
“You talk about co-production but you don’t want to face the history of China. You don’t want to talk about it,” Stone said.
“Three times I’ve made efforts to co-produce in this country and I’ve come up short. We’ve been honest about our own past in America, we’ve shown the flaws.”
Movies about Mao are exclusively propaganda films like Founding of a Great Republic, which showed Mao’s role in the establishment of China. However, critical depictions of Mao are not permitted.
When the moderator of the discussion tried to turn it into more general areas, Stone accused her of missing his point.
“It’s all platitudes. We are not talking about making tourist pictures, photo postcards about girls in villages. This is not interesting to us. We need to see the history, to talk about great figures like Mao and the Cultural Revolution. These things happened, they affect everybody in this room. You talk about protecting the people from their history. I can understand you are a new country since 1949. You have to protect the country against the separatist movements, against the Uighurs or the Tibetans, I can understand not doing that subject. But not your history, for Christ’s sake,” he said.
“We’re talking about the essential essence of this nation of how it was built, this whole century, you’ve not dealt with it,” he continued, to applause from the audience.
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