You would think Jon Stewart can talk about whatever he wants. The Comedy Central veteran who returned from what looked like retirement to host “The Problem with Jon Stewart” on Apple TV+, is reportedly not moving forward with a third season.
It wasn’t Stewart’s shows about COVID-19, election interference, race relations, the Middle East or socialism vs. capitalism that led to an impasse with one of America’s most innovative companies.
It’s almost hard to still be surprised. The dependent relationship between Apple and China is longstanding and well-documented, and one would expect that any Apple TV+ content by one of America’s sharpest cultural critics and comedians, directed at China’s Communist Party, would raise red flags in Cupertino as well as Beijing.
Americans have become sadly accustomed to these sorts of stories regarding Sino-American relations in the realm of entertainment. In recent memory, there was the explosion of controversy around “Top Gun: Maverick” and Tom Cruise wearing a Taiwan flag patch on his jacket, then the disputed map of the South China Seashown in the “Barbie” movie, as well as Disney filming its live-action “Mulan” in Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1 million Muslim Uyghurs are held in detention camps.
China’s censors have long history of restricting content
The list of other PR blowups between Hollywood and China’s censors is far, far longer.
American consumers must not allow themselves to become complacent. Our creative class and intellectual leaders are being muzzled at the behest of a foreign adversary, and it has to stop.
Unfortunately for the average consumer, it often feels like little can be done to resist feeding an entertainment machine doing the bidding of the Chinese government. Parents and children want to see popular movies and TV shows featuring big-name stars in theaters and on streaming services.
It takes a highly informed and committed conscientious objector to resist any consumer behavior that rewards studios for censorship they accept to access China’s market.
Watching ‘forbidden’ movies about China is a small act of defiance
Nonetheless, there is one simple thing you can do. Watch some “forbidden” movies. You can search to see the movies the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t want you to see.
Streaming now on Netflix is “Seven Years in Tibet,” an epic starring Brad Pitt as Austrian climber Heinrich Harrer. The movie follows the true story of Harrer’s departure from the Nazi military to climb the Himalayas and his brutal journey on foot to the Tibetan holy city of Lhasa. There he befriends the young Dalai Lama in the final years before Tibet’s Buddhist monks were massacred by Mao Zedong’s communist revolutionaries.
At the end of “Seven Years in Tibet,” Pitt’s character confronts a Tibetan official who helped facilitate the Chinese takeover of Lhasa. Pitt says, “On the way to Lhasa I would see Tibetans wearing those jackets (Communist Chinese Party attire). ‘Chinese soldiers – very nice. They give food, clothes, money – very nice.’ It’s strange to me that something so harmless as a jacket could symbolize such a great lie.”
China-hawks of today would be pressed to write such a compelling exchange that captures what so many in the West have come to understand about open relations with China: The Chinese have shaped us, and we have utterly failed to shape them.
The film was a seismic struggle for Sony to complete and distribute in the United States during the late 1990s. Considering that Martin Scorsese’s critically acclaimed 1997 film on the fall of Tibet, “Kundun,” has been all scrubbed from cinematic history and the world of streaming, watching “Seven Years in Tibet” is a small but worthwhile act of resistance while it is still available online.
Stop following China.United Nations is ruled by ‘we the peoples,’ not authoritarian regimes.
Here’s another. The Foundation for Economic Education recently released a wonderfully detailed documentary video on Scorsese’s “Kundun” and then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s ultimate decision to bury the film, per China’s wishes. “Kundun” is hard to find online and isn’t available to stream on any major platform. But you can learn everything about it and China’s campaign to block the film from American eyes by watching the documentary.
Consumers will have to demand more from our nation’s storytellers and media companies if open discourse is going to survive.
Jon Stewart must have known what he was getting into with Apple when he began to pursue an episode critical of China, and he should be lauded for walking away. We can only hope whatever it is Stewart had to say that Apple couldn’t tolerate, he’ll say by other means.
Midway through “Seven Years In Tibet,” the young Dalai Lama asks Harrer, “Do you think someday people will get Tibet on their movie screens and wonder what happened to us?”
When Tibet itself is a forbidden subject, known as one of the Forbidden T’s, the answer to the Dalai Lama’s question is, of course, yes.
Originally published here