Dennis Prager, Adam Carolla Free Speech Doc Aims to Get Wider Release

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Dennis Prager

Atlas Distribution — whose film 'No Safe Spaces' features multiple scenes that decry censorship in China — says it is booking hundreds more theaters.

Capitalizing on the controversy swirling around China, which censors the internet and Hollywood movies, a documentary film from comedian Adam Carolla and talk show host Dennis Prager that tackles free speech is beefing up its theatrical distribution plans.

On Monday, The Hollywood Reporter obtained two exclusive clips from the movie, called No Safe Spaces, that directly take on China. They are a couple of risky scenes, given China-owned AMC Entertainment is set to exhibit the film in several of its theaters early in the film’s distribution pattern.

“Free speech is unique to the United States; in Russia and China you go to jail if you say anything nice about gay people,” Carolla says in one clip. In another, a cartoon character dubbed Firsty sings, “I’m the First Amendment. / Without me you’d be living in China,” in a scene meant to invoke images of a protester who stood down a tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

No Safe Spaces was to screen a couple of times at Harkins Theatres in Phoenix on Oct. 25 then slowly roll out from there, but Harkins added several screenings and the distributor, Atlas Distribution, says it has been scrambling to go wide more quickly by booking hundreds more theaters, including many owned by AMC. Dalian Wanda Group purchased AMC for $2.6 billion in 2012, making China’s largest private company also the worldwide leader in theater chains.

American companies that kowtow to China’s censorship demands have been under the gun lately, the latest example being when seven lawmakers, including Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fired off a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook criticizing the company for removing an app used by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Five U.S. lawmakers also sent a letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick after his company suspended Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung for expressing solidarity with Hong Kong demonstrators.

In perhaps the most high-profile of the recent incidents involving China, NBA superstar LeBron James has been defending himself after criticizing Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey for tweeting support for protesters in Hong Kong, who want a bill allowing China to extradite people from Hong Kong to be withdrawn and for arrested demonstrators to be released.

Like the Hollywood film industry, the NBA does tremendous business in China, and Morey has apologized for his tweet. The entertainment industry has been grappling with the situation in a variety of ways: South Park was banned from the Communist nation after it poked fun at the NBA and a character uttered, “Fuck the Chinese government!”

Also, while many studios self-censor their movies in order to get them into the country populated by more than a billion people, Chinese regulators pulled the release of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood after director Quentin Tarantino refused to cut scenes that were critical of the late Bruce Lee.

"We are proud of the film and of those scenes,” Carolla said of No Safe Spaces. ”As a comedian, one of my jobs is to point out obvious things that people have forgotten are obvious — and many other countries, including China, lack the basic freedoms we enjoy here. I'm glad we live in a country where we can still express ourselves freely."

Noting that in entertainment, South Park and Carolla seem to be leading the way when it comes to defying Chinese censors, Chuck DeVore of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and author of China Attacks, said: "Perhaps comedians will point the way when politicians, actors and sports stars fail us."