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China's 'world's worst' censorship affects Internet, Hollywood productions

Hollywood studios increasingly dependent on China for revenue are being required to alter content to please Beijing.

By Elizabeth Shim
China's 'world's worst' censorship affects Internet, Hollywood productions
A Chinese janitor mops the floor outside a movie theater in Beijing. China is experiencing a boom in theater construction and a middle class with a burgeoning appetite for blockbuster films, but Hollywood studios are forced to comply with strict censors that are affecting the content of movies. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- China's heavy censorship of Hollywood films is not only affecting Chinese moviegoers, but also how American studios produce their films, and Beijing's Internet censorship was ranked the world's worst, according to a U.S. watchdog organization.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in Washington issued a report on Wednesday highlighting the impact of Chinese censorship on the U.S. film industry.

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After partly opening its market in 2012, China allowed 34 revenue-sharing U.S. films to be screened annually, but Beijing's requirements have affected the fate of blockbusters like Iron Man 3 and Captain Phillips.

Films must add Chinese actors in extra scenes in order to please China censors, and if producers are found non-compliant of rigid but also vague standards, they can be forced to confront funding shortages. In the case of Captain Phillips, the film's producers were $9 million short because co-producers in China had issues with the movie's positive depiction of the United States and the U.S. military.

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Co-production, or sharing valuable film technology with Chinese counterparts, has become a requirement for many Hollywood projects, including the upcoming Kung Fu Panda 3. The film's front-end creative work is being managed in the United States, but Shanghai-based Oriental DreamWorks is overseeing the film's production and animation, using new animation technologies from the United States.

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The lure of the China market, however, is difficult to resist for Hollywood studios. The commission stated that while the U.S. movie-theater market faces limited growth, China is experiencing a boom in theater construction and a middle class with a burgeoning appetite for blockbuster films. China now builds an average of 15 new movie screens a day, and by July 2015 the country had 28,000 screens across 5,600 cinemas, whereas in 2012 1,300 screens were in operation.

Censorship in China is not just affecting films, but also Chinese knowledge on the Internet. TIME reported that a global study on Internet usage issued by Freedom House ranked China's online censors as the world's worst, behind Syria, Iran and Cuba.

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The report stated hundreds of thousands of people are employed to block content that is anti-government or socially sensitive. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other sites cannot be accessed unless a virtual private network is installed.

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