Globalized Hollywood: Good Politics Makes for Bad Art

Mia Aleman, Editor

Since the 1980s, Hollywood films have become an artistic manifestation of American economic dominance. The industry’s major distributors have been able to leverage U.S. foreign power to pave the way for a new international market in countries that have historically shielded their domestic film industry. In 2019, the international box office hit a record $42.5B with Hollywood films comprising 73% of grosses. [1] However, Hollywood’s global power is not without cost. To meet international film-production laws, Hollywood sacrifices artistic autonomy.

With the rise of European and Asian media corporations, American conglomerates face a new challenge. Competitive pressures are surging rapidly, and the global cultural landscape is becoming more complex. Arguably, Hollywood’s most consequential competitor is China and its film industry. Through negotiation and selective adaptation, the Chinese state takes advantage of Hollywood resources to build the domestic film industry and promote Chinese soft power while resisting globalization.

The Chinese film market operates on a quota system designed to limit foreign films screened to 34. Such restrictions provide Hollywood studios with extra incentives to appeal to Chinese audiences and saturate the world’s second-largest film market. For this reason, Hollywood, without any other option, has taken a more friendly, collaborative approach with China’s censorship rules, quota, and film-production laws. In favor of profits, American production studios make concessions, even though Chinese censorship makes for inauthentic films and, debatably, worse products.  

Marvel’s Doctor Strange (2016) and Tilda Swinton’s portrayal of the Ancient One depicts one instance of significant and harmful censorship. The comic’s original character is Tibetan, but on-screen, the Ancient One is Celtic. This change is per China’s infamous red lines and the practice of silence on Tibet, where the language, religion, and customs have remained suppressed since the 1950s Chinese invasion. In defense, screenwriter C. Robert Cargill explained that the filmmakers were trying to avoid stereotypes and political controversy, but this is only further evidence of the movie’s massive efforts to appeal to China [2]. It could have been possible to modernize the Ancient One while maintaining the original character’s persona and Asian background. Instead, the character is another unfaithful rewrite and missed opportunity for Asian representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Chinese censorship does not always affect the entire film; compromises for domestic release are often made through specially edited versions of movies. Dozens of blockbusters have undergone edits before their release in China, and one notoriously harmful example is Bohemian Rhapsody (2019). The film’s approval for limited release in China came with edits that included the film’s most crucial scenes: Freddie Mercury coming out to his fiancée, his lover’s introduction, and his AIDS confession to the rest of Queen. When asked why the Chinese release had removed all the gay content, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox said in an email that the studio had no comment. [3] The edits confused audiences and changed the film’s entire narrative and image as a biopic while validating homophobia in China. 

In the current climate of film globalization, the Chinese quotas, censorship rules, and film-production laws complicate the domestic market. It has become clear that Hollywood’s international box-office performance depends heavily on how well Hollywood studios can appease Chinese audiences and cooperate with China’s film industry’s key players. Thus, American production companies have relinquished their autonomy to control movie content. This surrender has profoundly changed Hollywood and has been the cause of dozens of cinematic horror stories. From the removal of Rose’s iconic nude scene in Titanic (1997) to the location change from Paris to Shanghai in Looper (2012) to almost the entire live-action remake of Mulan (2020). Hollywood’s cooperation with China has seen tremendous profits but at the cost of artistic integrity.

[1] Tartaglione, Nancy. 2019 Worldwide Box Office Hits $42.5B Record; Offshore Too With $31B+: Highlights From The International Profit Center & What’s Ahead For 2020 – Global Studio Chart. 10 Jan. 2020, 

[2] Lubin, Gus. “Forget Whitewashing: ‘Doctor Strange’ Goes out of Its Way to Appeal to China.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 7 Nov. 2016, 

[3] May, Tiffany, and Claire Fu. “’Bohemian Rhapsody’ With No Gay Scenes? Censored Film Angers Chinese Viewers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Mar. 2019,