Last week, Attorney General Bill Barr slammed Disney, Marvel Studios, and other Hollywood production companies and actors for their cozy relationship with the People’s Republic of China.
Barr’s speech made at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum specifically addressed what Barr described as “the most important issue for our nation and the world in the twenty-first century — that is, the United States’ response to the global ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party.”
He elaborated, “The CCP rules with an iron fist over one of the great ancient civilizations of the world. It seeks to leverage the immense power, productivity, and ingenuity of the Chinese people to overthrow the rules-based international system and to make the world safe for dictatorship. ”
In the beginning of the speech Barr warns about China’s ambitions and goals. He described China’s practices as an “economic blitzkrieg.”
Barr elaborated, “The People’s Republic of China is now engaged in an economic blitzkrieg—an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government (indeed, whole-of-society) campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent superpower.”
He specifically notes, “The ultimate ambition of China’s rulers isn’t to trade with the United States. It is to raid the United States.”
Around halfway through the speech he took aim at Hollywood production studios. He first called them out for their capitulation to Hollywood censors.
He stated, “Take Hollywood. 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.”
He continued, “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,” he added.
To make his point clear, Barr cited World War Z, “For example, the hit movie World War Z depicts a zombie apocalypse caused by a virus. The original version of the film reportedly contained a scene with characters speculating that the virus may have originated in China. (In the novel, Patient Zero is a boy from Chongqing.)”
He added, “But the studio, Paramount Pictures, reportedly told producers to delete the reference to China in the hope of landing a Chinese distribution deal. The deal never materialized.”
He then pointed to Marvel Studios and Dr. Strange.
Barr explained, “In the Marvel Studios blockbuster Dr. Strange, filmmakers changed the nationality of a major character known as the “Ancient One,” a Tibetan monk in the comic books, from Tibetan to Celtic.”
“When challenged about this, a screenwriter explained that “if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he’s Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people.” Or, he continued, the Chinese government might say “[w]e’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political,” Barr stated.
He then details that this behavior is systemic in Hollywood, “These are just two examples of the many Hollywood films that have been altered, one way or another, to conform to CCP propaganda.”
Barr continued, “National Security Advisor O’Brien offered even more examples in his remarks. But many more scripts likely never see the light of day, because writers and producers know not to even test the limits.”
“Chinese government censors don’t need to say a word, because Hollywood is doing their work for them. This is a massive propaganda coup for the Chinese Communist Party,” he stated.
The Attorney General also took the time to layout the motivation behind Hollywood’s quick desire to bow before the Communist Chinese, “The story of the film industry’s submission to the CCP is a familiar one. In the past two decades, China has emerged as the world’s largest box office. The CCP has long tightly controlled access to that lucrative market—both through quotas on American films, imposed in violation of China’s WTO obligations, and a strict censorship regime.”
He added, “Increasingly, Hollywood also relies on Chinese money for financing. In 2018, films with Chinese investors accounted for 20 percent of U.S. box-office ticket sales, compared to only 3.8 percent five years earlier.”
He then detailed that China’s aim like other businesses is to co-opt Hollywood, “But in the long run, as with other American industries, the PRC may be less interested in cooperating with Hollywood than co-opting Hollywood—and eventually replacing it with its own homegrown productions.”
The nations’s top prosecutor laid out how he believes the CCP would accomplish this feat, “To accomplish this, the CCP has been following its usual modus operandi. By imposing a quota on American films, the CCP pressures Hollywood studios to form joint ventures with Chinese companies, who then gain access to U.S. technology and know-how.”
He added, “As one Chinese film executive recently put it, “[e]verything we learned, we learned from Hollywood.” Notably, in 2019, eight of the 10 top-grossing films in China were produced in China.”
Barr wasn’t done with his criticisms of Hollywood quite yet. He set aim at the biggest fish in the pond, Disney, and gave a quick historical recap of the once “iconic American company.”
He explained, “In World War II, for example, the iconic American company, Disney, made dozens of public information films for the government, including training videos to educate American sailors on navigation tactics.”
“During the war, over 90 percent of Disney employees were devoted to the production of training and public information films. To boost the morale of America’s troops, Disney also designed insignia that appeared on planes, trucks, flight jackets, and other military equipment used by American and Allied forces,” he continued.
Barr would then invoke the founder of Disney himself, Walt Disney, “I suspect Walt Disney would be disheartened to see how the company he founded deals with the foreign dictatorships of our day.”
He then cited how Disney’s current behavior greatly contrasts to their previous one. He noted that back in 1997 Disney stood up to China, before quickly capitulating to them.
Barr explained, “When Disney produced Kundun, the 1997 film about the PRC’s oppression of the Dalai Lama, the CCP objected to the project and pressured Disney to abandon it. Ultimately, Disney decided that it couldn’t let a foreign power dictate whether it would distribute a movie in the United States.”
He continued, “But that moment of courage wouldn’t last long. After the CCP banned all Disney films in China, the company lobbied hard to regain access.”
“The CEO apologized for Kundun, calling it a “stupid mistake.” Disney then began courting the PRC to open a $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai. As part of that deal, Disney agreed to give Chinese government officials a role in management,” he detailed.
He then described that Disney employees at this park display communist symbols, “Of the park’s 11,000 full-time employees, 300 are active members of the Communist Party. They reportedly display hammer-and-sickle insignia at their desks and attend Party lectures during business hours.”
He then warned Disney may quickly learn its capitulation to China comes at a great cost, “Like other American companies, Disney may eventually learn the hard way the cost of compromising its principles. Soon after Disney opened its park in Shanghai, a Chinese-owned theme park popped up a couple hundred miles away featuring characters that, according to news reports, looked suspiciously like Snow White and other Disney trademarks.”
Barr makes a fair point. If Walt Disney were alive, it’s doubtful that he’d be pleased with how those in the leadership of his company are managing affairs with a hostile foreign power.
According to The Walt Disney Museum Blog, Disney was extremely patriotic. During World War II he is quoted as saying, “Tomorrow will be better for as long as America keeps alive the ideals of freedom and a better life.”
Disney also touted his service with the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during World War I, telling his daughter Diane, “The things I did during those eleven months I was overseas added up to a lifetime of experience. It was such a valuable experience that I feel that if we have to send our boys into the Army we should send them even younger than we do. I know being on my own at an early age has made me more self-reliant…”
What do you make of this part of Barr’s speech that calls out Disney, Marvel Studios, and Hollywood?