What Hong Kong’s Beijing-Style Cinema Censorship Means For Pro-Democracy Protests, Filmmakers And Hollywood
Hong Kong on Friday amended its film classification regulations, adding Beijing-style censorship rules which will ban movies that could be seen as “endangering national security,” in a move that breaks from years of tradition in the city that houses a vibrant cinema culture and relatively few restrictions on foreign films.
In a statement released on Friday, the Hong Kong government announced it has expanded the city’s film censorship ordinance and under the new regulation any film portraying “any act or activity which may amount to an offense endangering national security” will be banned from exhibition.
The rules also instruct the censors to ensure that they “prevent and suppress” activities that impact the “common responsibility” of Hong Kong residents to protect “the sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity” of China.
Unlike China’s National Film Bureau—which heavily censors cinema in mainland China—Hong Kong always used a ratings system similar to the one used in countries like the U.S. and U.K. which allowed sexual and violent content only for adults but left politics largely untouched.
The new rules will apply to any film foreign or domestic that is being screened in a movie theater or any other public places in Hong Kong.
The move appears to be the latest effort by Beijing to crack down on dissenting voices and roll back freedoms that the financial hub previously enjoyed.
What To Watch For
The enhanced censorship is likely to have a major impact on foreign films, including those made in Hollywood, with regard to their release in Hong Kong. Unlike China, which allows around 40 or so foreign films a year, Hong Kong has no such restrictions, making it a key Asian market for Hollywood. The lucrative nature of the Chinese market—second biggest box office in the world after the U.S.—and its repressive censorship already seem to have a major impact on Hollywood films, a report published last year by the non-profit PEN America found. The report found that Hollywood executives have been voluntarily censoring their studios’ films to placate the Chinese market. It noted that casting, content, dialogue and plotlines were increasingly being tailored to appease censors in Beijing.
Friday’s changes appear to stem from Beijing’s increasing discomfort with cinemas being used as an expression of dissent by Hong Kong pro-democracy activists. In March, a sold-out theatrical release of the protest documentary “Inside the Red Brick Wall” was pulled from cinemas in Hong Kong at the last minute following strong pressure from pro-Beijing media publications which called for its ban. In April, the Hong Kong International Film Festival canceled the highly anticipated premiere Hong Kong film “Where the Wind Blows” due to “technical reasons”—a catchall term often used to indicate Chinese state censorship. Hong Kong’s top broadcaster TVB also declined to broadcast this year’s Oscars ceremony for the first time since 1969, despite the Hong Kong-made film “Better Days” being nominated in the best international film category. The decision to boycott the Oscars came after Beijing ordered channels in the mainland to not broadcast the event due to the nomination of the documentary “Do Not Split” which covered the Hong Kong pro-democracy protest.
Last year, in an effort to exert more control on Hong Kong, Beijing imposed a new national security law that gave the city’s authorities sweeping powers to target political dissidents, and established secret police and a national security council to oversee its implementation. Protests against Beijing’s growing control and the subsequent crackdown by the city’s authorities have plunged the Asian financial hub into its worst crisis since its handover from the United Kingdom in 1997.
“This new censorship will make it even harder for local filmmakers in Hong Kong to use their democratic rights to create art and challenge unjust power structures,” Do Not Split director Anders Hammer told AFP. “It’s two years since the pro-democracy protests started and I’m saddened to see another serious example of Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s civil liberties,” the Oscar-nominated director added.