Following an announcement that the Beijing International Film Festival and cinemas across the country would be screening ‘Django Unchained’ for select audiences, Chinese authorities banned the American movie from release and interrupted the film during its first screening.
On 11 April 2013, cinemas across the country had to abruptly cancel the screening of Quentin Tarantino’s award-winning film ‘Django Unchained’, citing unexplained “technical reasons.” But the puzzled public attributed the sudden suspension to a nude scene explicitly showing genitals.
A web user named Xueyidao allegedly had reported that a cinema in Beijing stopped showing the film just one minute after it began, and he was told by cinema staff that the country’s top film watchdog made a call to delay the screening.
A Global Times reporter went to Wanda Cinema and Palace Cinema in eastern Beijing, and confirmed that the screening of Django Unchained had been cancelled, with no further information available about when it would be shown.
Yan Yu, vice-general manager of the China Film Stellar Theater Chain, told the Global Times that they had received an urgent notification in the morning of 11 April from the two domestic distributors of the movie, the China Film Group Corporation and Huaxia Film Distribution, saying that the film was temporarily suspended from screening around the country due to “technical reasons”, but gave no further details.
The film’s director, Quentin Tarantino, had edited a special version of ‘Django Unchained’ for China, cutting some nude scenes and weakening some violent content. The China version is two minutes shorter than the US version.
Tarantino has many followers in China, but due to his portrayals of violence, his works have never been before been publicly shown in the country because of its strict film censorship.
The public reaction
“What was really significant was the public reaction,” wrote Clifford Coonan in Irish Times: “The decision to chain Django has been met with anger even in the state-run media, and shows there is growing public dissatisfaction with the opaque censorship practices.”
In a piece in the Global Times newspaper, under the heading “Django Unclothed does less harm to audiences than screeners’ whims,” Shi Chuan, vice-president of Shanghai Film Association, said: “I believe the unexpected cancellation will do far more damage to China’s image than the sight of Jamie Foxx’s bare bottom could do to a Chinese audience.”
Film director Feng Xiaogang, who was called ‘China’s Spielberg’ by Newsweek and is one of Chinas’ most prolific and successful directors, having produced 15 feature movies in 18 years, accepted the honourable title of ‘Director of the Year’ from the China Film Directors Guild on 12 April 2013, and remarked in his acceptance speech:
“In the past 20 years, every China director faced a great torment, and that torment is [beep].”
The word that was blocked out is “shen cha,” which means censorship in Chinese, and which allegedly anyone reading his lips could surmise.
The video of Feng’s speech went viral on China’s social media. One post containing the video was re-tweeted more than 10,000 times on Sina Weibo, the country’s favorite microblogging platform.
Feng choked up with emotion before he spoke about censorship, and as soon as he did, the attendees in the ball room let out a collective ‘whoa!’, breaking into applause. Feng continued:
“A lot of times when you receive the order [from the censors], it’s so ridiculous that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, especially when you know something is good and you are forced to change it into something bad. Are Hollywood directors tormented the same way? … To get approval, I have to cut my films in a way that makes them bad. How did we all persist through it all? I think there is only one reason — that this bunch of fools like us love filmmaking — are entranced by filmmaking — too much.”
Another film called back
This is not the first time a film was pulled even though it had received approval for screening. But film insiders said such a decision had never before come so abruptly.
In September 2012, director Lou Ye was asked to re-edit his film Mystery 41 days before the screening, even though the film had already obtained an approval. The film finally made it to the silver screen after a tough ‘fight’.
Long list of banned American classics
Michael Arbeiter from Hollywood.com wrote:
“While Django might well return to China’s theaters (plausibly with a few additional edits), its banishment from the country’s release plate would hardly make the Tarantino film an outlier. China has kept quite a few well-known tiles out of reach of its viewing public…
Ben-Hur: Reportedly, China disallowed release of the classic Charlton Heston picture due to its overt embrace of Christian themes.
The Departed: Thanks to a single line about the Chinese government’s intention to attack neighboring country Taiwan with nuclear weapons, China withheld permission to show Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End: Unofficial reports attribute the pulling of the third Jack Sparrow movie to China’s decision that Chow Yun-fat’s character, Sao Feng, upheld negative East Asian stereotypes.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life: The film’s depiction of Chinese society was considered negative and offensive by China’s standards.
Farewell My Concubine: Most alarmingly of all, the 1993 Chinese film was banned nationally for its embrace and depiction of homosexuality, and for its critical take on communism.”
Hollywood.com – 11 April
‘Django Unchained’ Added to China’s Long List of Films Deemed Not Suitable for the Public
By Michael Arbeiter
Chinese Films – 12 April 2013:
Confusion as ‘Django’ Pulled Mid-screening
International Herald Tribune – 15 April 2013:
Blocking of ‘Django Unchained’ Taints Beijing’s Film Festival
By Didi Kirsten Tatlow
Irish Times – 17 April 2013:
Censor leaves film industry’s No 2 market reeling on cutting-room floor
Booming Chinese industry lures Hollywood. By Clifford Coonan
The Atlantic – 18 April 2013:
Chinese Film Director: ‘Censorship Is Torment’
Feng Xiaogang — often called “China’s Spielberg” — brings up a taboo subject in a speech. By Rachel Lu
International Business Times – 21 April 2013:
Feng Xiaogang, Chinese Director Of ‘Remembering 1942,’ Censored While Discussing Censorship
By Sophie Song