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Executives at Relativity Media had no comment on Sunday (UPDATE BELOW) to multiple reports of activists slamming the company following its announcement Friday that it is involved in the making of the movie 21 and Over, which was shot in part in Linyi, a city in eastern China’s Shandong province, which is home to Chen Guangcheng, a prominent blind civil rights activist and lawyer who has been harassed, beaten and subjected to house arrest since 2005.
The movie, a comedy featuring American talent and directed by two Americans (who are credited writers on The Hangover and its sequel), is projected to be the first in a series of films to be financed under a new partnership established to make movies with and where appropriate, in China.
A press release about the project included a quote from the local Communist party secretary Zhang Shajun. Zhang has been identified by activists as one of the officials who have been involved in the repression of Chen.
A number of groups including Human Rights Watch have objected to Relativity’s involvement and the production in Linyi.
A writer on the Chinese microblog Weibo named “C. Custer” posted an open letter to Relativity on Saturday in which he said, “that those same local officials praising your decision to come to Linyi are probably the ones paying teams of thugs to surround Chen Guangcheng’s village and beat anyone who tries to get near it. You know that they’re the ones who’ve been holding an innocent man and his family hostage, without charges or any kind of legal proceedings. “
“Maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but holding an innocent blind man and his family in their house, beating and robbing well-intentioned net users trying to visit him, and then lying about it to the world does not sound like a great premise for a hilarious buddy comedy,” added Custer on his blog. “And every day you’re in Linyi shooting 21 and Over, you’re funding that, too, whether you want to be or not.”
Custer put email addresses and phone numbers on the blog of Relativity executives, urging his readers to contact them directly to let them know their feelings about this.
Sources say the shooting in Linyi is now finished and the movie is now in post-production. It appears executives at Relativity were not aware of the potential backlash from their involvement with the Chinese, and in particular shooting in the city of Linyi.
UPDATE: A spokesman for Relativity sends THR the following comment:
“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment. We stand by that commitment and we are proud of our growing business relationships in China, through our partnership with Sky Land, its strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution Company. As a company, we believe deeply that expanding trade and business ties with our counterparts in China and elsewhere can result in positive outcomes.”
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