'Roma' Cleared for Sizable Theatrical Release in China

The multi-Oscar winning film will be released by Beijing-based companies Joy Pictures and E Stars, using China's new art house cinema alliance, which runs a network of over 3,800 screens in the country.

Alfonso Cuarón's multi-Oscar winner Roma has landed a theatrical release date in China.

Joy Pictures and E Stars, two influential film distributor based in Beijing, have partnered with China's Nationwide Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas (NAAC) to import and open the film on May 10. The partners will utilized the NAAC's network of up to 3,900 screens for the release. 

The substantial distribution plans mean Chinese filmgoers will have the opportunity to see Cuarón's autobiographical black-and-white masterpiece in cinemas with far greater ease than moviegoers anywhere else in the world.

As part of its Oscar-qualifying awards season campaign last fall — and in deference to Cuarón, who was adamant that filmgoers have as much access as possible to a big-screen experience of the film — Netflix released Roma in more than 1,600 theaters in 40 countries, including in 350 cinemas in the U.S. But no market had nearly as much theatrical coverage for the movie as China is about to receive.

Netflix has been unable to launch its service in China because of Beijing's rules prohibiting direct foreign content channels in the country. So China was the one major territory carved out of the streaming giant's acquisition deal for Roma.

Instead, Roma's producers, Esperanto Filmoj and Participant Media, sold the Chinese theatrical rights to E Stars and Joy Pictures shortly after the movie won the Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion last fall.

Prestige cinema in the vein of Roma was once a tricky sell in China, but the market has diversified to embrace select examples of such filmmaking in recent years. Despite a poor track record for musicals and specialty titles in China, Joy Pictures opened La La Land in the country just prior to the 2017 Oscars and generated a healthy $36 million. The trend continued last year, with Japanese art house drama Shoplifters, winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or, earning an impressive $14.1 million. Earlier in 2018, Oscar best picture winner The Shape of Water pulled in $16.6 million and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri earned $10.3 million.

The biggest China haul for any awards season film, however, was achieved earlier this year by Participant's 2019 best picture Oscar winner, Green Book, which has earned more than $71 million in the Middle Kingdom.