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'Django Unchained' Will Show in China: Tarantino Agrees to SARFT Demand for More Cuts

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 26, 2013 at 2:45PM

Hollywood sees dollar signs when they look at China. It's the land of new opportunity. But navigating with this burgeoning market has its hazards. The main issue is one that will never be resolved, not on the creative co-production side and not at the distribution end either. And that is SARFT, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the government censorship entity which is set up to protect its citizens.
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Django, SLJ detail 2

Hollywood sees dollar signs when they look at China. It's the land of new opportunity, recording $15.5 billion in revenues from its film and TV business in 2011. The Chinese box office alone grew by 35% in 2011, passing Japan as the world's second-largest market; it will soon outstrip the U.S.

But navigating this burgeoning market can be hazardous. The main issue is one that will never be resolved, not on the creative co-production side nor at the distribution end. And that is SARFT, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, the government censorship entity which is set up to protect its citizens.

When people complain about Hollywood's voluntary CARA ratings board--mostly filmmakers who want to reach the widest possible audience--they don't realize what a nightmare we could have if local communities were weighing in on what should be able to play in what market. The Chinese have no ratings system. So they are looking to "protect" their citizenry, young and old, educated and non-sophisticated, rural and urban, from a wide range of things, from religious superstition presented in a way that could be misunderstood, to political incorrectness, sex and violence. That wide net of censorship looking to cover everyone from a five year old city boy to a 85 year old rural grandmother is the nub of an inflexible problem that will never be fixed or resolved.

Creatively, all filmmakers, Chinese or not, have to bend over backwards to meet the stringent SARFT standards that make any kind of authentic or rigorous storytelling impossible. And on the distribution side, SARFT can change its mind, as it did with Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," about what cuts it deems necessary to show the film inside its borders. One set of cuts gave way to the film being pulled from theaters, and another round of edits were demanded and delivered before China agreed to let the film play on the big screen.

Sony, which handles the film internationally, got Tarantino to agree to the changes so that the film could be shown: "We are delighted that audiences throughout China will be able to experience 'Django Unchained' beginning Sunday, May 12th," states Sony. "There is tremendous excitement, anticipation and awareness for the film and we thank the local authorities for quickly resolving this issue."

This article is related to: Box Office, Box Office, Box Office, Sony, Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.