Django Unchained – The Controversial Slavery Western Epic – First To Hit The People’s Republic
China is no stranger to censorship. With internet sites such as Google and Youtube both ‘blocked’ within The People’s Republic, and mass cuts appearing in many Hollywood motion picture releases, it’s no surprise to learn that a controversial film is denied release or heavily censored for a Chinese audience.
Which is why it comes as somewhat of a shock to hear that arguably one of the most controversial films of the last year is to receive an almost untouched release there! Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti-slavery-revenge fantasy Django Unchained is on track to hit Chinese cinemas in mid April with less than a minute of material cut. It’s somewhat ironic for this to happen to what is undoubtedly one of the most controversial films in a long while Stateside, whereas something like Cloud Atlas, received over 40 minutes of material cut (nearly a quarter of the film) resulting in mass confusion. It’s worth noting that Django Unchained involves very little in the way of nudity or sexual content, whereas Cloud Atlas had all of its content removed pertaining to any kind of intimacy, especially when being performed by the homosexual characters – something particularly difficult to do considering it’s a major part of the story. Sadly, China doesn’t have a certification board and instead everything has to pass through The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, which results in incredibly strict censorship and cultural naivety.
Django Unchained, despite its heavy Oscar buzz (even being nominated for Best Picture and winning two Oscars) divided American audiences between people who felt it was a surreal genius masterpiece or a pretentious racist piece of junk (like most Tarantino films then). Similar feelings were felt towards Cloud Atlas, (read our review here) which divided people between the fabled camps of “Best ever!” and “Oh God Why?!”. Fittingly enough there were some well-deserved cries of racial insensitivity towards the film, though it received none of the media attention of Django Unchained.
So the question is, why? why would a film seen as mostly harmless within the United States be cut so heavily compared to a film by a director notorious for flirting with the edges of acceptability? Can it be simply chalked up to a difference in sensibilities? The aftermath of slavery is undeniably still a factor in American society, is it simply that China has no comparative point? After all, do we complain about glamorization of slavery era Rome in things like the popular HBO series Rome? No. We have no point of reference. Yet, the fact that the SARFT is controlled by the government leaves a sour taste in the mouth of many outside (and inside) the country. Censorship for ‘taste’ is very different from censorship for politics, and it could be argued that this is what has happened with films like Cloud Atlas.
Last summer’s James Bond hit Skyfall (read our review here) was another film to receive curious choices in editing. Scenes including mention of Chinese torture and prostitution, as well as a scene in which James ends the life of a Chinese security guard were all removed. China argues this is a matter of taste, and yet multiple agents of other ethnicity are killed left right and centre and not cut. If this seems peculiar to you, is it just a matter of culture shock? Or is there something undeniably more sinister about China’s censorship laws? (We also talked about censorship previously, here.)
Django Unchained will hit Chinese cinemas April 11th.