According to a recent report from Variety, not all of the Marvel Studios Phase Four films will necessarily have a release in China. In a recent announcement for Phase Four, CCTV 6, a Chinese channel monitored by the propaganda department, only featured eight of the ten films. The two conspicuously missing films were Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
The absence does not mean the films are currently banned, but it is a good indicator that the Chinese government may have an issue with the films. The Variety piece further illuminates what those issues may be; one because of the director involved and the other for its cultural representation.
Chloé Zhao, the Oscar-winning director of Eternals, is no stranger to suppression of her accomplishments by the Chinese government. Zhao made history this year with her film Nomadland being the second woman and first woman of color to be awarded the Oscar for Best Director. On the road leading up to the ceremony, promotional material and hashtags for the film were blocked on social media in China. Coverage of the Oscars and Zhao’s wins also faced a social media blackout.
The origin of this suppression of her work may stem from a comment she made in a 2013 interview viewed as critical toward China as well as a misquote from an Australian website. Zhao, who was born in China, was quoted as saying America “is now my country.” The statement was later corrected to read America “is not my country.” It seems the film Eternals may end up facing similar treatment as Nomadland.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings appears to have a different issue. Namely, the character of Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu originated in the pulp stories of Sax Rohmer and is viewed as a racial stereotype. The character was later picked up and adapted for comics, first appearing in Special Marvel Edition #15 in 1973 as Shang-Chi’s father.
In the upcoming film, Marvel has replaced the character. Jonathan Schwartz, one of the producers, stated that Wenwu “is a new character, created entirely for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Schwartz also mentioned the new character has gone by the name the Mandarin. Despite the name change, there has been a lot of anger on Weibo, the Chinese blogging website, believing the character to still be problematic. The official Communist Youth League paper China Youth Daily remarked, “Although ‘the Mandarin’ is not the same person as Fu Manchu, it still is under the shadow of ‘Fu Manchu”. In addition to Wenwu, there have also been rumblings about the casting and cultural representation of China.
While there is no official ban yet, the removal of the films from the Phase Four listing does not bode well for their release. There is the possibility that there are scenes within the films that are causing the issues. Catering to such a large market as China, Disney, who owns Marvel Studios, hasn’t had an issue re-cutting films to appease the censors. When Logan opened in China, over ten minutes of footage was removed from the film. If the issues are more than cutting a few scenes, we may see a total ban, which we’ve also seen in the past with films like Deadpool.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next several months and if economic pressure from outside the United States will encourage self-censorship from within.