LeBron James got caught cozying up to China in the most embarrassing of ways a few weeks back. Turns out he’s got some competition on the “cozying up” front from two of the biggest companies in Hollywood.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar scolded Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey for supporting Hong Kong protesters, dubbing Morey “misinformed” and “not educated.” A massive public backlash ensued.
The derisive chant “Shut Up and Dribble” made a sudden comeback.
Much less has been made of two similar comments tied to authoritarian regimes.
Netflix, the world’s biggest streaming company (for now), got in trouble with one of its politically charged originals. The company’s far-left talker “Patriot Act” starring Hasan Minhaj aired a segment critical of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his ties to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi earlier this year.
The streaming giant yanked the episode in question from its Saudi feed at the country’s urging. Recently, CEO Reed Hastings defended the decision.
“We’re not in the news business,” he said during an event sponsored by The New York Times. “We’re not trying to do ‘truth to power.’ We’re trying to entertain.”
“We can accomplish a lot more by being entertainment and influence the conversation about the way people live, rather than being another news channel,” he added.
Netflix seemed less interested in “entertaining” when it got into bed with the Obamas on a multi-million dollar production deal. Or when Hastings added former Obama official Susan Rice to the company’s Board of Directors.
And what about Netflix threatening to pull productions out of Georgia after the state passed strict new legislation targeting abortion procedures?
That doesn’t mention the streamer’s hard-left content catalog, featuring uber-woke talent like Chelsea Handler, the aforementioned Minaj, David Letterman and, briefly, Michelle Wolf.
Standing up to authoritarian regimes isn’t of particular interest to Team Disney, either. The House that Mickey Built gains plenty from showing its product in Chinese movie theaters. That allows gargantuan hits like “Avengers: Endgame” to be gargantuan-er.
So it’s not shocking to hear Disney echo similar talking points.
The Hollywood Reporter recently invited seven major studio chiefs to weigh in on a number of critical issues, from the changing digital landscape to our current superhero fixation.
Alan Horn, chief creative officer and co-chairman of Disney, joined in the conversation which eventually steered toward … China. THR brought up the imbroglio revolving around the studio’s live-action version of “Mulan.” That film’s star, Yifei Liu, shared her support for the Hong Kong protests, causing a LeBron-sized outcry.
How did Horn react?
“My feeling is free speech is an important component of our society, and folks ought to be able to say what they want to say.”
So far, so good.
“We try to be nonpolitical. There is always an issue somewhere in the world, and China happens to be a very, very big market, but it’s not the only market where there have been issues. The only thing I have said to the folks that work with me is to keep in mind that when you speak, [the media will quote you]. And that carries with it a certain responsibility. Be sensible and think before you speak. Especially on social media.”
The conversation then shifted to the “Fast & Furious” franchise, one of Hollywood’s hottest properties. The roundtable moderator asks if the series could have a Chinese villain at some point. Universal’s Donna Langley offers this answer:
“We run a business. We have to be sensitive to important markets.”
That would be a “no.”
These revelations don’t address the other ways studios appease Chinese censors, from adding positive Asian characters to win over foreign censors to ensuring no plot points interfere with the nation’s “flawless” image.
The international markets certainly complicate business decisions in the 21st century. Movie studios know a stateside flop can turn into a profit leader if select foreign markets rally to their side.
There are few easy answers in our increasingly global age. Still, it’s hard to process the non-stop lectures and finger-wagging from Hollywood Inc. and the aforementioned comments.