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Cruz Pushes to Block Department of Defense From Helping Studios That Censor Films in China

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  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) plans to introduce legislation that withholds Department of Defense assistance from film studios that censor their movies in China.
  • Many movie studios rely on the DOD for equipment, assets, and advice for the accuracy of their storytelling and productions. 
  • Studios also often delete or edit scenes in their films to appease Chinese censors. China is one of the largest box offices in the world, meaning companies are willing to be flexible to get audiences in the country. 
  • Now, Cruz is saying that “Hollywood has been complicit in China’s censorship and propaganda” for too long and must make a choice between DOD help and box office cash in China. 

What is the SCRIPT Act?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) plans to introduce legislation that would block film studios that agree to censor their movies in China from receiving assistance from the Department of Defense.

Cruz plans to introduce the bill, which is called the Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity, Protecting Talkies Act, or the SCRIPT Act, when Senate sessions resume. Movie studios frequently censor portions of their films for their release in China. Many also receive help from the DOD to gain expert advice or access to equipment so their stories and production can be accurate.

But now, Cruz wants Hollywood to make a choice. 

“For too long, Hollywood has been complicit in China’s censorship and propaganda in the name of bigger profits,” he said in a statement. “The SCRIPT Act will serve as a wakeup call by forcing Hollywood studios to choose between the assistance they need from the American government and the dollars they want from China.”

With 1.4 billion citizens, the Chinese box office is incredibly valuable to studios. According to Box Office Mojo, in 2019 China’s box office brought in $7.9 billion, coming in second only to the United States, which brought in over $11 billion. Before the coronavirus outbreak brought moviegoing to a halt, accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers anticipated that China would surpass the U.S. in 2020.

Because so much money is at stake, studios concede to China on a lot of fronts when it comes to censorship. But Cruz says he wants to “combat China’s growing influence” over American media. 

“From buying media outlets to broadcast propaganda into America to coercing Hollywood studios and sports leagues to self-censor by threatening to cut off access to one of the biggest markets for sports and entertainment in the world, the Chinese Communist Party spends billions and billions of dollars to mislead Americans about China and shape what our citizens see, hear, and think,” he added in his statement.

So far, no major studios have responded to the upcoming legislation.

Chinese Censorship in Film

There is no shortage of content that China aims to restrict when Hollywood brings its blockbusters overseas. Bohemian Rhapsody had to remove scenes that explored Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. Likewise, a brief kiss between two women was cut from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker late last year. Other films where homosexuality is a major plot point, like Brokeback Mountain, have been denied any release in the country.

LGBTQ messaging is not the only topic Chinese theaters want to keep off the big screen. Skyfall only got the green light to screen in the country after it erased scenes where violence against security forces and prostitution in China were depicted. Ten minutes of footage were dropped from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End because China feared one character vilified Chinese people. A sequence in the opening of Mission Impossible III was cut because it depicted underwear hanging out to dry on a clothing line in Shanghai, which censors thought looked negative. Iron Man 3 saw a scene added for its Chinese release, where famous Chinese actors played doctors discussing an operation on the titular hero.

Some movies never see the light of day in the country. The 2011 Red Dawn remake was originally going to center around young fighters resisting an invasion of Chinese soldiers, but distributors had them swap Chinese soldiers for North Korean ones. Even though editors scrambled to digitally replace flags and switch the dialogue over, China still did not screen the movie. They also did not screen Disney’s Christopher Robin because many often make jokes comparing the resemblance of President Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh.

Hollywood’s Relationship with the DOD

Still, Hollywood relies on the DOD for many reasons. Their relationship is nearly a century old and the Pentagon even has its own entertainment liaison office. According to the DOD, they work with the film industry “to accurately depict military stories and make sure sensitive information isn’t disclosed.”

The DOD helps films that might need military assets like jets or tanks. They also help films that want to film on location places like Air Force or Naval bases. According to The Independent, 800 feature films have been aided by the DOD over the years, including Iron Man, Transformers and The Terminator. The DOD also extends its hand to television and has assisted 900 small screen titles since 2005.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The Hill) (Fox News)

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Joe Rogan Says Grimes Did Not Give Dave Chappelle COVID-19

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  • Comedian Dave Chappelle is under quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. He is asymptomatic and his remaining shows in Austin, Texas have been canceled.
  • The news comes just days after Chappelle was photographed with Joe Rogan, Elon Musk, Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.
  • “Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” Rogan wrote on Instagram Friday. “Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

Chappelle Tests Positive

Comedian Dave Chappelle has tested positive for coronavirus and is currently under quarantine, according to one of his representatives.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, that rep also confirmed that he is currently asymptomatic and has canceled all of his remaining shows at Stubbs Waller Creek Amphitheater in Austin, Texas.

“Chappelle has safely conducted socially-distanced shows in Ohio since June 2020 and he moved those shows to Austin during the winter,” the statement read.

“Chappelle implemented COVID-19 protocols which included rapid testing for the audience and daily testing for himself and his team. His diligent testing enabled him to immediately respond by quarantining, thus mitigating the spread of the virus,” it continued.

Joe Rogan Speaks Out After He Was Photographed With Chappelle

Two of the remaining Austin shows were supposed to include fellow comedian Joe Rogan. Rogan took to Instagram Friday morning to announce that they will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Still, many fans had questions about Rogan’s current state of health. The news of Chappelle’s positive test comes just days after he was photographed maskless with Rogan, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, musician Grimes, and several others backstage at one of his Austin performances.

Since Grimes, who is also in a relationship with Musk, recently had COVID, many were concerned that she may have exposed the group. Others wondered if Chappelle may have spread it.

Rogan eventually updates his Instagram caption to dismiss the ideas.

“Because people are asking, I was not exposed to the person who had covid and I have tested negative every day this week,” he wrote.“Also, the person that gave covid to Dave was NOT Elon’s partner @grimes.”

See what others are saying: (The Hollywood Reporter) (CNN) (AP News)

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Netflix Passes 200M Subscribers as Other Streamers Struggle With Retention

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  • In a letter to shareholders, Netflix said it has hit over 200 million subscribers following a successful year of growth.
  • The pandemic gave Netflix a significant subscriber boost in March and April. The company continued to perform well even in its final quarter, gaining 8.5 million subscribers when it was only projected to add 6 million.
  • The data also highlights how relatively unaffected Netflix has been by new streaming services entering the market. While companies like Disney+, HBO Max, and Peacock continue to grow, they also struggle to retain the subscribers that sign up.

Netflix Passes 200 Million Subscribers

Netflix has topped 200 million subscribers following a year of strong growth in 2020.

In its Tuesday letter to shareholders, Netflix announced that it added 8.5 million subscribers in its fourth quarter. This exceeds projections, which estimated the streaming giant would only add around 6 million. In total, Netflix gained 37 million new memberships throughout 2020, bringing the company to 203.6 million subscribers.

Pandemic lockdowns gave Netflix a substantial boost in March in April. In the company’s first two quarters, it added a combined 25.7 million subscribers. According to data from the letter, Netflix had added over 10 million more subscribers by May of 2020 than it had by May of 2019.

When it comes to the success of their fourth quarter, Netflix pointed to shows like “Bridgerton” and “The Crown.” The fourth season of “The Crown” hit the platform in November, prompting many to return to older seasons of the show. Netflix claims the series has been viewed by 100 million households since it first aired in 2016.

Success Amid Growth of Competition

The year 2020 could have been a difficult one for Netflix as new streaming services entered the market. Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock and more have all made waves with their original programming or by taking some of their brand’s content from Netflix to host on their own site. User-based content on YouTube and TikTok also became increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, further posing as a threat to Netflix. 

Still, it reached a massive milestone. 

“Our strategy is simple: if we can continue to improve Netflix every day to better delight our members, we can be their first choice for streaming entertainment,” Netflix said in the letter. “This past year is a testament to this approach.”

Netflix potentially sees Disney+ as the biggest competitor among new platforms. In its letter, the company noted that the streamer added 87 million subscribers in its first year. In a Q&A, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings seemed enthusiastic about this competition.

“It’s super impressive what Disney’s done,” he said. “It’s going to be great for the world that Disney and Netflix are competing show-by-show, movie-by-movie. We’re very fired up about catching them in family animation, maybe eventually passing them, we’ll see. It’s a long way to go just to catch them, and maintaining our lead in general entertainment that’s so stimulating like ‘Bridgerton,’ which I don’t think you’re going to see on Disney anytime soon.”

Streamers Struggle with Retaining Subscribers

Even as new streamers have had impressive years, there is one hurdle that many are still struggling to jump over: retaining the subscribers who sign up. The Los Angeles Times named Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, and Apple TV+ in particular, writing that people create accounts with these services, watch the TV shows or movies they are interested in, and cancel once they are done.

An October survey from Deloitte said that 46% of respondents canceled at least one streaming service in the last 6 months, which is up 20% from January of last year. Most who had canceled said they did so because they had finished watching whatever programming it was that brought them to that service. 

Places like Disney+ and HBO Max are really vulnerable to this because they have banked on drawing people in with exclusive marquis titles like “Hamilton” or “Wonder Woman 1984.” However, since they are newer, they are still building their original programming catalog, meaning that people can quickly burn through highlight titles. 

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Wall Street Journal) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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Paramount+ To Launch March 4

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  • ViacomCBS is launching Paramount+ in the United States and Latin America on March 4 before rolling out to other markets internationally later this year. 
  • The streaming service will be a relaunch and expansion of CBS All Access. It will include content from Nickelodeon, MTV, and more on top of the CBS-focused selection. 

Paramount+ Gets Launch Date

ViacomCBS will be launching its streaming service Paramount+ in the U.S. and Latin America on March 4 before rolling out in more countries throughout the year. 

It will be an expansion and rebrand of CBS All Access, the service the company currently offers that is used by nearly 8 million subscribers. Paramount+ will go beyond the CBS-centric content promoted there, including works from brands like Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, and the Smithsonian Channel.

More details about their streaming strategy will be released during an investor event on February 24. Right now, ViacomCBS is boasting that the service will have over 30,000 episodes and movies in their catalog, which will also include live sports and breaking news. 

“The Paramount brand is known and loved all around the world, and is synonymous with great entertainment. It’s always brought people together, which makes it a perfect fit for a streaming service that’s uniquely positioned to do the same,” Josh Line the chief brand officer of ViacomCBS said during a brand announcement in September. “The Paramount+ streaming service will elevate ViacomCBS’ iconic family of brands.”

State of the Streaming Wars

Paramount+ has already announced a slew of original projects including a revival of “iCarly” and a series about the making of “The Godfather” titled “The Offer.”

The service is entering an already crowded battlefield as the streaming wars wages on. It will have plenty of uphill battles to fight since brand recognition for Paramount is not nearly as strong as it is for studios like Disney or NBCUniversal. It will also have to compete with Netflix, which leads the pack in subscribers and unveils new content regularly; HBO Max, which will be home to Warner Media’s new theatrical releases; and Hulu, which hosts original content as well as shows currently airing on cable and network television. 

ViacomCBS has not released information on pricing, but that will likely come during or before the February investor event.

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Deadline) (CNBC)

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