Senator Ted Cruz plans to introduce legislation that would prohibit the U.S. Department of Defence from working on Hollywood movies where producers might censor scenes to appease the Chinese government. Hollywood producers have come under fire in recent years for changes to numerous films to ensure that they play in Chinese theatres, the second biggest box office in the world after the United States.
First reported by Politico, Cruz’s bill is called the SCRIPT Act and would require U.S. film production companies to submit to the DOD a list of the movies they’ve made for the past 10 years and disclose whether they’ve ever submitted scripts to the Chinese government for approval. Ironically, the bill essentially mandates that Hollywood producers submit scripts to the U.S. government for approval if they want any assistance from the U.S. military, something that’s already been the case for years.
The U.S. military establishment has assisted in the creation of movies dating back to at least the 1910s, providing rare resources like fighter jets and aircraft carriers in exchange for script approval on Hollywood films. But the Texas Republican doesn’t want any of those resources to go toward the creation of movies where China might have a say in how characters and storylines are developed.
The U.S. military has worked on numerous recent movies, from Captain Marvel to the Transformers franchise, big-budget films where the good guys are uniformed members of the Air Force, Army, and Navy. And before DOD helps by providing equipment and advice, Hollywood effectively signs a contract that gives the military final say in how the armed forces are depicted on screen.
“From buying media outlets to broadcast propaganda into America to coercing Hollywood studios and sports leagues to self-censor by threatening to cut off access to one of the biggest markets for sports and entertainment in the world, the Chinese Communist Party spends billions and billions of dollars to mislead Americans about China and shape what our citizens see, hear, and think,” Cruz said in a statement emailed to Gizmodo.
“All of these activities are part of China’s whole-of-state approach to amass more influence around the world through information warfare—and we need to put a stop to it.”
While Cruz isn’t wrong about China spending billions in so-called “soft power” efforts to exert cultural influence through media and popular culture, the U.S. has been doing the exact same thing for over a century. That’s the entire reason that countries like Canada have cultural quotas to ensure that some Canadian content gets produced at all, rather than being completely subsumed by American media.
Movies are censored for all kinds of reasons in China, including depictions of homosexuality and politically sensitive fare. Sometimes those changes are made before the final cut of the film is edited and released to any market, with producers already aware of what’s taboo. Other times, a film may be edited to different standards in the U.S. and China—to say nothing of movies in even more culturally conservative regions like Saudi Arabia.
The Freddy Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, for example, was edited so that some scenes of the rock singer’s sexuality were removed. American audiences saw the uncut version of the film.
The upcoming Top Gun sequel, subtitled “Maverick,” includes some alterations to the original Top Gun designs that were done to appease the Chinese government. Top Gun: Maverick was produced with help from the U.S. Air Force, much like the original Top Gun that was released in 1986. And the new movie makes some changes to Maverick’s jacket that were done so that the film could play in Chinese theatres. Specifically, the removal of a Taiwanese flag—something that has frustrated Republican senators like Lindsey Graham.
Amusingly, the SCRIPT Act is an acronym for “Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity, and Protecting Talkies Act,” with “talkies” being the word adopted in the late 1920s for movies with synchronised sound. Cruz is widely known as one of the most hated men in the U.S. Senate, but you have to give him credit for a joke like slipping in the word “talkies” into legislation of the 21st century. Good job, senator.
“For too long, Hollywood has been complicit in China’s censorship and propaganda in the name of bigger profits,” Cruz told Gizmodo in a statement. “The SCRIPT Act will serve as a wakeup call by forcing Hollywood studios to choose between the assistance they need from the American government and the dollars they want from China.”