Monthly Archives: December 2014

Hollywood’s self-censorship goes way back

From the beginning, the Sony hack, and the demands for censoring The Interview, reminded me of a story we’ve seen before. I blogged about Nazi Germany pressuring Hollywood (the German market was a big consideration even then), and the result being that a lot of movies made in the 1930s had to appease such sympathies.

Nor was Germany the first to push their interests. Glenn Reynolds points out, while linking to a piece on China’s pressure in The-American-Interest, Hollywood once had to appease the domestic market in the South, too.

It goes back even further. In 1915, Hollywood made The Cheat, which had Sessue Hayakawa playing the villain, a Japanese businessman taking advantage of the film’s heroine. Japanese-Americans, and then even the Japanese government, were naturally outraged. When the film was re-released in 1918, they changed the names and the dialog (being a silent movie, they simply changed the cards), and the villain was now said to be from Burma. There’s a difference, of course, between being sensitive to valid concerns of fellow Americans, new immigrants and trading partners, and being sensitive to authoritarian governments, but the end result is all too often going overboard in the wrong direction.

But that was then.

The scary thing today is not so much that The Interview could have been censored. It’s that, brave as producers may like to appear for the moment, it’s that every production down the road will probably be made while thinking about it. It’s not really their fault either. We can demand these companies remain stalwart all we want, but to them, it’s their millions of dollars that are on the line.

But there’s good news. I’d even say great news: We can make our own movies now. One example being amateur Star Trek productions like the ones I’ve also blogged about before. There will be more of that as this stuff gets cheaper and easier. Yes, there will be more “evil” movies, too, but we’d be getting those anyway. (I do have my own issues with Star Trek.)

Just don’t let them censor the internet.