Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on February 14, 2008
Steven Spielberg has quit as artistic director for the opening night show at the Beijing Olympics. (More in this BW story.) This is a major PR blow to the Chinese. Typically U.S. companies tie themselves into knots to keep Beijing happy and preserve their access to the 1.3 billion consumers in China. You might think that China would be hugely important to Hollywood, for all the obvious reasons: Over one billion people, rising economy, lots of middle-class moviegoers, etc.
But while Beijing has considerable leverage over most American industries, Hollywood is fairly immune. That’s partially Beijing’s own fault. Because China has a highly restrictive policy that only allows 30 foreign films a year into Chinese cinemas, the box-office numbers for Hollywood pictures in China are just tiny. Even tinier when you consider that the 30-number limit isn’t just for Hollywood pictures, it’s for Japanese, Korean and all other foreign movies (with the exception of Hong Kong films, which get special treatment). And of course there’s so much piracy in China, the country is Public Enemy No. 1 for the Motion Picture Association.
Some companies have tried, with little success, to court the Chinese. Disney, Sony and a few others have made some co-productions there in the past few years. But nobody has managed to overcome the intense Chinese resistance to opening up to Hollywood. Time Warner, which had taken the lead in opening cinemas in China, retreated a few years ago. With Darfur activists loudly calling for him to take a stand against genocide, Spielberg - the man behind the Shoah Foundation, which focuses not only on the Holocaust but Rwanda and other genocides - had little to lose and much to gain by dumping the Chinese.