China tells media not to air Oscars live after nomination of Hong Kong protest film

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – China has told local media not to broadcast next month’s Oscars ceremony in real time and to play down coverage of the awards, according to people familiar with the matter, after a documentary on the Hong Kong protests was nominated and amid concern over the political views of Best Director contender Chloe Zhao.

The Communist Party’s propaganda department issued the order to all media outlets, said the people, declining to be identified given the sensitivity of the issue.

Outlets were told that Oscars coverage should focus on awards that are not seen as controversial, according to the people.

The order was also reported by other media including Radio Free Asia and Hong Kong’s Apple Daily late on Tuesday (March 16).

The information office of China’s State Council didn’t respond to a fax seeking comment.

Do Not Split, nominated for best short documentary, chronicles the anti-Beijing demonstrations that took hold in Hong Kong in mid-2019 and China’s growing power and influence in the former British territory.

Directed by Norwegian video journalist Anders Hammer, it has barely been covered in China, which keeps an iron grip on local and social media platforms within the country.

Censorship orders are issued regularly by the government, which also vets social media posts.

While initially lauded in the Chinese press for the success of her naturalistic film Nomadland, Zhao – who won the Golden Globe for Best Director last month – has since attracted criticism for a 2013 interview where she is said to have described China as “a place where there are lies everywhere”.

US tensions

The director, whose father reportedly was a top executive at a large state-owned steel company and whose stepmother is a famous comic actress in China, has also been criticised by local social media users.

Zhao, who grew up in the United States, has mainly made movies about America.

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Over the past two years, at least two Chinese streaming platforms – 1905.com and Mango TV – showed the Oscars ceremony live.

The platform 1905.com is run by a subsidiary of state broadcaster China Central Television, known as CCTV, according to its website.

The platforms did not immediately respond to e-mails requesting comment and CCTV did not answer calls.

The Academy Awards are due to take place in Los Angeles on April 25.

Rising tensions with the US, particularly during the Trump period, has fuelled nationalism in China, which is also smarting from international criticism of its handling of the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

That has added to challenges for Hollywood, which already has a mixed track record gaining traction for American films in what is now the world’s largest movie market.

Walt Disney thought it had a ready-made blockbuster with its live-action remake of Chinese folk tale Mulan last year, but the film was criticised locally for its portrayal of Chinese culture and in the West for filming in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government is accused of oppressing the Uighur minority group.

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Monster Hunter, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and backed by Sony Corp, was also pulled from some cinemas in China after a line of dialogue similar to a playground taunt ignited social media backlash.

The movie’s co-producer apologised and edited out the line.

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