In This Review

Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy
Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy
By Erich Schwartzel
Penguin Press, 2022, 400 pp.

In 1994, Beijing began to allow the import of a trickle of American movies into China, just ten a year. By 2020, the Chinese market accounted for the largest box office in the world. Schwartzel tells the story of how Chinese investments in Hollywood and the Communist Party’s role in deciding what Chinese audiences could see swiftly inverted the power relationship between China and the United States in this immensely influential industry. With the Chinese market “too lucrative to anger,” Hollywood executives learned the troubling art of “anticipatory censorship,” stripping films of anything that might annoy Beijing. In 2010, news that a soon-to-be-released remake of the 1984 hit Red Dawn featured a Chinese invasion of the United States prompted angry editorials in China. Spooked, MGM transformed the already filmed movie into a preposterous story of an invasion by North Korea. Fear of Chinese retaliation against possible blockbusters makes movie executives attentive to Chinese sensibilities down to the potential ramifications of a single shot. Only a studio that has failed to break into the Chinese market, such as Netflix, can retain a degree of freedom to film what it chooses. Schwartzel makes this story of big stars and big money a page-turner, but its implications are much larger. Whose history, whose successes, whose future agenda, and what values—of democracy or authoritarianism—will the world see on the big screen?