Chinese censorship of movies has been a sensitive issue in a world where studios are looking for revenue outside of largely-shuttered American theaters. Monster Hunter, for example, was quickly pulled from theaters in late 2020 after an insensitive joke about being Chinese. But comments made by those involved with movies can also see consequences, which seems to be the case with Nomadland director Chloe Zhao.
Variety reported on Friday that mentions of the film were “quietly swept from the Chinese web” after controversy erupted over an interview the director gave in 2013. According to Variety, questions brought up online about Zhao’s citizenship came in the wake of the director becoming the first woman of Asian descent to win a Golden Globe for best director.
Zhao had apparently received praise from state-run media, and Nomadland was given an April release in China. But some in the country in recent days have wondered about her nationality and focused on a sentence from a quote she gave to a magazine in 2013.
Their fire was further stoked by an interview Zhao, who was born in Beijing, gave to Filmmaker Magazine in 2013. In it, she explained that she was drawn to her early subjects about the American heartland because of her upbringing in China, and “being in a place where there are lies everywhere.” The magazine deleted the section in mid-February, days before the “Nomadland” China release date was announced. The publication has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
In the wake of that quote, many in China noted that Nomadland-related content on Chinese websites began to disappear online, and even some noted promotional posters vanishing. The Variety story details various sites where mentions of both Zhao and Nomadland were popular and since disappeared, leaving some interesting complications with what’s been called spotty censorship.
Searches for the hashtags “#Nomadland” and “#Nomadland Release Date” currently yield the message that “The topic’s page cannot be shown due to related laws, regulations and policies.”
The censors’ selection appears spotty, however — hashtags such as “#Nomadland Movie,” “#Chloe Zhao,” and “Chloe Zhao Wins Golden Globe for Best Director” are still available, the latter of which has been viewed some 350 million times.
Not only does all this lead to questions about whether Nomadland will see a Chinese release this spring, but whether Zhao’s future films there will be in doubt as well. The biggest of those, Marvel’s The Eternals, is currently scheduled for a November release and China would be a huge market for the comic movie seeing a release while, even with vaccines, the pandemic is still expected to impact the American market.
China has reversed decisions like these in the past, especially given how big a film the MCU title is expected to be. But it’s certainly an interesting situation that highlights just how different the political climate is in various places around the world, and how tenuous doing business in China can be for the movie industry.