Column: Chinese tech company pulls out of backing ‘Top Gun Maverick’, but China continues to influence Hollywood

Group of four aircraft fighter jet airplane sun glow toned gradient clouds sky.
According to the Wall Street Journal, The Chinese tech firm Tencent Holdings, which had originally agreed to co-sponsor the new “Top Gun” movie “backed out of the $170 million Paramount Pictures production after they grew concerned that Communist Party officials in Beijing would be angry about the company’s affiliation with a movie celebrating the American military.”
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Americans flocked to see the sequel to “Top Gun,” the popular classic that has served as an ode to American air power.

China has been less than thrilled about that, and is using their already heavy influence on U.S. media to express its displeasure. According to the Wall Street Journal, The Chinese tech firm Tencent Holdings, which had originally agreed to co-sponsor the film “backed out of the $170 million Paramount Pictures production after they grew concerned that Communist Party officials in Beijing would be angry about the company’s affiliation with a movie celebrating the American military.”

While the blockbuster Tom Cruise was released anyway, “The Chinese are financing some of your favorite films, buying theater chains, it is a growing trend. Major Chinese production companies teaming up with Tinseltown, which is leading to concerns over pro-China propaganda making its way into major American blockbusters” notes a Heritage study.

The Wall Street Journal had previously reported that Chinese companies engaged in $4.5 billion in purchases of Hollywood assets. “The new dynamic highlights Hollywood’s dependence on China, where the slightest change in state policy has ripple effects across the entertainment industry. China’s deep pockets have become a frequent topic of speculation and intrigue among entertainment executives, some of whom see the country as full of prospective buyers willing to pay high premiums for flashy Hollywood holdings.”

Some of China’s influence has been very overt. Several years ago, a remake of the cult classic “Red Dawn” was originally scripted to portray China as the villain. Beijing cracked its financial whip, and another nation was substituted.

An NBC Today review notes that “If you got to a movie theater right now, there’s a pretty good chance that the film you see will have been partially financed in China.”

To understand how China’s investment provides influence for the Beijing government, it must be understood that Chinese companies are subservient to and work diligently for China’s foreign policy. That, however, is only part of the story. The appetite for films in China’s largest-in-the world population is vast, and even those Hollywood studies not financially dependent on China have a significant financial interest in producing movies that appeal to their world view, even if that is detrimental to American interests.

Politico provides another example of the interrelationship between Chinese companies buying major stakes in Hollywood and Beijing’s political goals. Dalian Wanda is a Chinese firm that has intimate ties to the Chinese Communist Party, and it is intent on making major purchases of Hollywood assets. The publication asks, “For American moviegoers, the peril lies in the unseen. Would a war movie called South China Sea ever play in one of Wanda’s theaters? What about an action flick with a Chinese villain?…When you control the movie experience, you can subtly influence public opinion. And the Chinese government — Wanda’s staunch supporter — has been transparent about that goal. The Communist Party has banned or currently bans thousands of books deemed controversial. It heavily censors the Internet, while Facebook and Twitter remain prohibited in China — one of the reasons Freedom House ranked it a more restrictive society than Iran and Saudi Arabia.”

China has succeeded in influencing citizens of the West in ways the former Soviet Union never had the sophistication to understand. Moscow may have (and still does) finance anti-defense spending advocates and those seeking to destroy American energy independence; Beijing, with its huge cash reserves, buys influence in major influencing outlets, including Hollywood and academia.

Even more directly, China buys influence in major sources of information. The Times of India reports that Beijing buys or otherwise recruits influencers on such platforms as Facebook and TikTok.

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