‘Black Adam’ Shows Again that China is Lost to Hollywood
Plus: A zombie classic assigned!
A friend passed along word that there’s chatter online about Black Adam’s release in China—or, to be more specific, its lack of release in China. This chatter is likely wrong in the particulars but correct in the general sense of what it means for Black Adam’s finances.
So, the rumor is that Chinese Marvel fans, hoping to torpedo the DC-based film’s box office, made a big deal about Pierce Brosnan’s affinity for the Dalai Lama. This is one of several red lines for the Chinese government, which has made a habit of restricting market access to anyone who dares speak up about the plight of the Tibetan religious leader and the oppression of his people. (If you ever wanted to know why the Dalai Lama went from being a cause célèbre among the Hollywood set to being sidelined almost overnight by everyone who isn’t named Richard Gere, well, there’s your answer.)
While this is darkly comic—a nearly Iannucci-esque turn in the unceasing fandom wars—I am … skeptical that this is why Black Adam has failed to receive a release. For starters, it never really had one in the first place.
And that’s because Black Adam is the sort of movie that would almost never get a release in China. Despite Dwayne Johnson’s track record of success in China—Rampage earned 50 percent more in China than the United States—Black Adam would be a hard sell with China’s censorship board. Problem number one: it deals with the supernatural, which the Chinese have always been weirdly touchy about.
More importantly, however, is the thematic core of the story: Black Adam is about an oppressed people who overthrow first a tyrannical king and then a tyrannical military-backed government with the aid of a hero. And while there are enough scenes designed to make the United States look bad that you’d think Chinese authorities would be into Black Adam, they are much more worried about their own people, you know, rising up against them.
In the grand scheme of things, the specific reason—either Pierce Brosnan’s principles or the thematic concerns of the film itself—doesn’t matter that much. I know I occasionally sound like a broken record on this topic, but the simple fact of the matter is that China is not now and has not been for some time a good partner for the American film industry.
And the sooner Hollywood weans itself from China’s teat entirely, the better off the entire industry will be.
Bros is a movie we’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about on Across the Movie Aisle, but mostly through a business lens. On this week’s special members-only bonus episode, Alyssa, Peter, and I finally looked at it through an artistic lens. Is it, you know, a good movie? And to ensure that we hit all the cultural touchstones, we invited our producer Sebastian Hughes on to discuss it with us. Listen now!
And if you still need to subscribe to get access to this and everything else we do, you can sign up for a free month here:
Every year Jake Tapper puts together a charity auction for Homes for Our Troops that is stuffed with cool items for fans of popular culture. This year is no exception. I probably won’t win the Severance set visit/meet and greet with Ben Stiller, but if you win it, make sure to let me know so I can give you questions for him. He’s one of the most interesting directors working today and perhaps the keenest critic of the media-entertainment complex out there.
This week I reviewed Tár, a movie that is less about cancel culture, as some have suggested, and more about #MeToo. (I realize there’s some overlap here, but, to put it another way, it’s not about bad tweets but how powerful people abuse their own power.) Anyway, I don’t know if it’s the best movie of the year, but it is definitely the one I find most interesting to think and talk about. Can’t wait to discuss on Across the Movie Aisle next week with my friends!
Speaking of which, we talked about Ticket to Paradise on ATMA this week. Weirdly, I seemed to have liked it more than either Alyssa or Peter. I’m going soft!
Special treat for box office nerds on The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood this week: I talked to Scott Mendelson—formerly of Forbes, now headed over to The Wrap—about his 15 years as one of the foremost box office analysts in the country. It’s a great hour-long master class on how the business has changed over the last 15 years or so.
“49 True Facts About Lydia Tár” will only really make sense if you’ve seen Tár, but since I’ve already told you that you should see Tár you’ll soon be seeing it and, thus, it will make sense to you.
Gene Park says God of War: Ragnarok is even better than the original, which means that I’ll probably be pouring 50 hours of my life into it at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Make sure to check out Zandy Hartig’s essay on Rosemary’s Baby. It is, perhaps, more relevant now than it has been in years.
Assigned Viewing: Night of the Living Dead (Criterion 4K)
I know I usually assign streaming titles—and this title is available for streaming all over the place—but I’m specifically telling you to run out to Barnes and Noble, take advantage of their 50 percent off Criterion Collection sale, and buy this movie on 4K disc. Why? Two reasons. Reason the first: It looks amazing. The folks at the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Foundation did an incredible job of restoring this. Reason the second: because of a copyright snafu, the movie fell into the public domain years ago and George Romero made very little money from his masterpiece. My understanding is that his foundation gets royalties from this disc, which is wonderful. But the lack of copyright protection also explains why every version of the movie you’ve seen before now has looked terrible: there was very little financial incentive to spend the money to increase the quality of the image when most people will happily stream it for free on YouTube or pay $5 for a dupe-of-a-dupe DVD copy.
Hollywood's dealings with Communist China have been even more despicable than Louie B. Mayer going after Jack Warner for making "I was a Nazi spy" in 1938 as being "bad for business" in Germany.
Amen. BTW both Athena and Bros. discussions were 1st rate. Thanks.