Some of the most popular movies coming out of Hollywood in recent years have been altered by censors' demands -- officials of the Peoples' Republic of China, who demanded changes in return for access to that country's huge and increasingly lucrative market.
The name of the main villain in 2013's Iron Man 3 was changed from The Mandarin to avoiding offending Chinese sensibilities. That same year when World War Z was adapted for film from the novel of the same name, the origin of the zombie virus was changed from China.
These types of demands were nothing new. The previous year Men In Black 3 removed Asian-American characters because they were revealed to be aliens in disguise. The remake of the 1980s cult-favorite Red Dawn had to undergo digital alternations to switch the identity of the foreign invaders from Chinese to North Korean. In 2007 Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End, the actor Chun Yow Fat was edited out, because displaying a Chinese pirate wasn't considered acceptable to the film industry's government overseers. In Mission Impossible: 3 from 2006, the producers had to remove a brief scene where laundry could be seen drying outside -- an image objectionable to the Chinese government because it highlighted that most Chinese citizens could not afford washers and dryers.
These examples illustrate the extent to which Chinese censors go to make sure Hollywood casts their country in the best light possible.
But new worries about Chinese attempts to censor Hollywood are being raised by a wave of investment from that country into the U.S., including the movie industry and other media.
That includes Dalian Wanda Group's purchase of the Legendary Entertainment movie studio, its 49% stake in Paramount Pictures and its purchases of the two largest U.S. movie chains AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC) and Carmike Cinemas (CKEC) . Hunan TV's stake in Lions Gate (LGF) raised those concerns as well. Adding TV production to U.S. media interests, Dalian Wanda on Friday sealed a deal to buy So You Think You Can Dance maker Dick Clark Productions for $1 billion.
The prospect of Chinese officials holding sway over what American audiences see has set off alarms in Washington. Lawmakers and some lobbyists have called on their colleagues and for government watchdogs to examine whether Chinese investment in U.S. media companies poses a threat to free speech here.
Citing the investments of Dalian Wanda and others, Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, last month warned there is "a growing number of troubling examples of how agents of the Chinese Communist Party are exerting control of American movie content, both through direct ownership of studios and distribution as well as through coerced cooperation with the Chinese censorship agency." Culberson, chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, Science and NASA Appropriations Subcommittee, called on the Department of Justice to examine whether foreign buyers of U.S. media companies should be required to register as foreign agents.