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Marvel

As part of their fascinating "China Rules: How China Became a Superpower" series, the New York Times has an entry that's a must-read for American filmgoers: "How China Is Rewriting Its Own Script," in which Amy Qin and Audrey Carlsen succinctly track how Hollywood studios are bending over backward to get along with Chinese censors—in effect, letting Chinese officials determine the content of American movies.

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That can mean everything from digitally scrubbing out images that Chinese censors could find offensive (as was the case in the Red Dawn remake, in which a Chinese army was turned into a North Korean army) to tiptoeing around controversial political topics (there are probably a few reasons Marvel altered "The Ancient One" character in Doctor Strange, but the fact the character was originally Tibetan is almost certainly one of them).

This goes hand-in-hand with Chinese funding affecting films' content (one of the first examples of which was in Rian Johnson's excellent Looper, which took a detour to Shanghai for no clear reason) and American studios tailoring films from the ground-up to appeal more to Chinese audiences, often by including more Chinese actors.

As the Times points out, there's also a relatively new development: The Chinese government taking a more active role in the financing and revenue sharing of internationally produced movies. As Orville Schell of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society tells the Times, "There is a notion that its propaganda has not worked well enough. So this is where the film industry comes in. There’s a real sensitivity to the blockbuster power of Hollywood."

All of this is hardly new—over the past few years, China has become a huge part of American studios' box-office calculations. The number-one movie in China is currently Venom, which has made more than $187 million since its release in that country since November 9. (To put that into perspective: Domestically, Venom has made $210 million... but it's been out here since October 5.) While American studios don't get a huge cut of Chinese box office profits, what they do get is still sizable. Meanwhile, no one's quite sure how well Crazy Rich Asians, another hit in America, will do when it finally opens in China, following delays that may or may not have be related to Chinese censorship.

This is all worth keeping in mind for anyone who watches American movies—because in determining what Chinese audiences can see, Chinese authorities have also ended up determining what American audiences can see. By doing whatever they can to make sure their films reach Chinese audiences, American producers and filmmakers are doing Chinese censors' work for them.