Barr Criticizes Studios Over China Relationships, Singles Out Marvel, Paramount

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Attorney general William Barr

Trump's top law enforcement official said in a speech: "Chinese government censors don’t need to say a word, because Hollywood is doing their work for them."

Attorney general William Barr has fired another salvo at U.S. companies' relationship with China — and is specifically criticizing Hollywood studios' working partnership with Beijing on film releases.

In a Thursday speech aimed at outlining foreign policy toward the country, the world's second largest film market, Barr used entertainment and tech sectors as examples of global "kowtowing" to the Beijing regime, which now has 70,000 movie screens set up by exhibitors. 

"Hollywood actors, producers, and directors pride themselves on celebrating freedom and the human spirit. And every year at the Academy Awards, Americans are lectured about how this country falls short of Hollywood’s ideals of social justice," read Barr's prepared remarks given at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Michigan. 

Trump's attorney general added: "But Hollywood now regularly censors its own movies to appease the Chinese Communist Party, the world’s most powerful violator of human rights. This censorship infects not only versions of movies that are released in China, but also many that are shown in American theaters to American audiences."

In his speech, Barr listed evidence of what he described as self-censorship by noting that Paramount Pictures' adaptation of zombie apocalypse novel World War Z made a change to not have its Patient Zero be from China and that Marvel Studios changed the Ancient One character played by Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange from Tibetan to Celtic. (World War Z wasn't released in theaters in China in 2013, while 2016's Doctor Strange grossed $109 million in the country.)

The attorney general stated: "Chinese government censors don’t need to say a word, because Hollywood is doing their work for them." The Motion Picture Association, the lobbying organization representing major studios, declined to comment on the speech. 

Barr's speech echoes criticism that has long been leveled at studios and companies that work with China despite censorship concerns. Many Hollywood films have had scenes cut or altered in order to be shown in theaters in the country, which had a box office market in 2019 that totaled $9.2 billion while North American ticket sales amounted to $11.4 billion. The country also has a quota on the number of foreign films released annually. 

For years, many Hollywood studios inked co-production deals with China-based companies with the goal, in part, to create features that may fare better in theaters in the country and make it past local censors to nab coveted release dates. But protectionism by the government and a crackdown on foreign investment curbed those deals even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In April, Republican Ted Cruz introduced a bill titled "The Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity, Protecting Talkies Act" that the Texas Senator described as "cutting off Hollywood studios from assistance they receive from the Department of Defense if those studios censor their films for screening in China." The legislation, called the SCRIPT Act, was introduced in May and referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.