Hollywood stars have little to say about China, and for very good reason.
The film industry relies on the Communist nation to bolster its box office fortunes. At a time when expensive, IP-driven properties aren’t a sure thing, that matters.
Case in point: 2018’s “Tomb Raider” reboot, budgeted at $94 million. The Alicia Vikander film earned an anemic $58 million stateside. Its Chinese theatrical haul? An impressive $78 million.
The franchise would have gone back into hibernation without the Asian country’s backing. Now, MGM is prepping a sequel for a franchise few U.S. audiences care about in the first place.
Hollywood hearts China, now more than ever given the uncertainty surrounding the global pandemic. And if it means editing out “offensive” scenes, inserting Chinese propaganda into Marvel movies, or ignoring the country’s human rights abuses, so be it.
All of the above makes watching “Ask No Questions” infuriating.
The documentary from directors Jason Loftus and Eric Pedicelli examines a critical event in modern Chinese history. In 2001, five members of Falun Gong set themselves on fire at Tiananmen Square, a devastating blow to the meditation practice’s reputation.
Did it really happen exactly as we were told, though? Were these actually members of a practice made illegal in China despite its peaceful mien?
The film suggests Chinese government officials staged the self-immolation, presenting a series of damning details that point to propaganda, not an actual event.
It gets worse.
CNN reporter Lisa Rose Weaver, on the scene during the self-immolation tragedy, questions the government narrative. The film also introduces us to a Chinese state TV insider, Chen Ruichang, who thinks he knows the truth behind the incident, and he refused to stay silent.
The Chinese resident shares how the government imprisoned and tortured him to make him submit to its wishes. It’s a peek at an authoritarian regime’s surreal approach to keeping its preferred narrative in line. It’s also a portrait of a man with an infinite supply of courage.
It’s impossible to watch “Ask No Questions” and think well of the Chinese government, above and beyond the other human rights abuses on its ledger.
Could George Clooney view “Ask No Questions” and continue working on projects with Chinese connections? What about Ben Affleck or Chadwick Boseman? Can Hollywood’s biggest stars remain silent on China’s abuses – past, present, and future? Would basketball great LeBron James hit the floor wearing a jersey with Chen Ruichang’s name on it?
It all makes “Ask No Questions” an eye-opening experience for the viewer.
The film isn’t alone, of course, in depicting Chinese human rights abuses. The 2012 documentary “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” captures the ongoing battle between the heroic Chinese artist and his home country.
Or one could watch “Human Harvest,” another project Loftus helped bring to theaters. The film explores China’s success in the human organ field, one powered by the inhumane practice of taking organs from healthy, living residents.
A personal note. This reporter interviewed Loftus for a feature story at JustTheNews.com. Loftus shared how China punished him for making “Ask No Questions.”
During the conversation, the director explained how Chinese officials often neglect to tell people why they’ve been targeted by the government.
That’s a strategic move, he suggested. By keeping the offense a mystery, it forces people to self-censor more aggressively. If you’re not sure what triggered the government’s punishing response, you’ll avoid any number of actions to prevent it from happening again.
The same appears true of Big Tech’s censorship techniques in the U.S.
Social media users often wonder why their particular post caused them to be suspended from YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.
It’s why PragerU still doesn’t know why some of its videos, featuring right-leaning but squeaky clean lessons, are “restricted” by YouTube censors. Or how often conservative comedian Steve “Mudflap” McGrew gets thrown in Facebook jail without knowing exactly why.
Americans should watch “Ask No Questions” to get a better sense of China in the modern world. The film, and its backstory, double as a cautionary tale for what might happen in America … and what’s happening here right now.
A version of this article appears on HollywoodInToto.com.