Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reported that the state-run China Film Group had instructed cinemas nationwide to stop showing the 2-D version of Avatar from January 23 on orders from Beijing’s propaganda chiefs.
It is not just the desire to entertain the masses with a Chinese movie that has prompted the censors to step in and pull James Cameron’s hit from 2-D screens. The Government fears that too many citizens might be making a link between the plight of Avatar’s Na’vi people as they are thrown off their land and the numerous, often brutal, evictions endured closer to home by residents who get in the way of property developers.
The newspaper said: “Reportedly, the authorities have two reasons for this check on Avatar: first, it has taken in too much money and has seized market share from domestic films, and second, it may lead audiences to think about forced removal, and may possibly incite violence.”
China’s favourite blogger, Han Han, a twentysomething writer and racing-car driver, was among those who quickly spotted the similarity between the film’s plot and real life. He wrote: “For audiences in other countries, such brutal eviction is something beyond their imagination. It could only take place on another planet — or in China.”
Popular views of the film as an allegory for predatory property developers across China will not have gone down well with the Propaganda Department in Beijing. Blogs are buzzing with the news of Avatar’s imminent disappearance. The film opened on January 4 and soon drew lengthy queues despite one of the coldest winters in years. Box-office takings hit a record 56 million yuan for a single day and IMAX cinemas which show the full 3-D version are booked up for weeks. The film had been due to play until February 28, well past the Chinese new year holiday, which begins on February 14.
So Avatar, after having a successful two week run in China, is now being banned as “subversive.” Coincidentally, the beneficiary will be a domestic feature, “Confucius” starring Chow Yun Fat. That benefit may be incidental as what the Chinese government is really scared of is not James Cameron’s movie, but the citizenry of China. They do not want their citizens to see a movie about people throwing off the oppressive yolk of a tyrannical, occupying force. Clearly there is resonance between “Avatar” and China’s military occupation of Tibet. And, as we see above, there is also resonance between the film and the Chinese government’s forceful displacement of poor people to make way for development projects.
The simple morality play in “Avatar” is that it’s wrong to use armed soldiers to force people off their land and exploit their resources. The film is no indictment of any particular government (though it clearly isn’t a stretch to apply it to a few nations, like China). But that the Chinese government clearly thinks “Avatar” is an allegory for their own behavior is more confirmation of how they know they have behaved than anything else. If “Avatar” is subversive, it is only because the Chinese government has engaged in and is continuing to engage in the exact same sorts of bad behaviors as the human military-corporate characters in the film. If you had any doubt, the Chinese government just confirmed it for you.