“Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino’s bloody slave revolt epic, was summarily yanked from release in China Thursday — its scheduled opening date — halting some commercial screenings after film had already begun to run.
But … why?
The suspension edict was issued by the China Film Group, the state-controlled conglomerate that exercises wide-ranging authority over the national film industry through tentacles extending into development, production, distribution, importation, exhibition and more.
Neither the China Film Group nor “Django’s” distributor, Sony Pictures China, are commenting publicly, and theater operators in the country are reporting that authorities cited only vague “technical reasons” in explanation of their unprecedented action.
“We got the notice from our headquarters around 10 a.m. this morning, but it was too late to cancel two viewings,” a source from one of the affected theaters in Shanghai told Reuters. “We were only told that it was due to some technology problems and were told to cancel it. They didn’t tell us when the film would be shown again.”
The abrupt maneuver follows recent reports that writer-director Quentin Tarantino had altered his Oscar-winning film — tempering his trademark violent imagery — to comply with the communist state’s rigid censorship standards.
Mr. Tarantino had “agreed on making slight adjustments to the film for different markets — and this adjustment for him is progress rather than a compromise,” Zhang Miao, director of Sony Pictures’ Chinese branch, diplomatically explained recently to Southern Metropolis Daily, a feisty Chinese daily.
“What we call bloodshed and violence is just a means of serving the purpose of the film, and these slight adjustments will not affect the basic quality of the film — such as tuning the blood to a darker color, or lowering the height of the splatter of blood,” Mr. Zhang revealed, in soothing circumlocutions calculated to save face for Mr. Tarantino, the brash standard-bearer of the anything-goes spirit of the independent film renaissance of the ’90s.
Baffled industry observers are at a loss to explain why the Chinese authorities would rescind approval for a film that had already met the exacting demands of official censors from the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), who vet every movie released in China, reportedly spending 15 to 30 working days per film weeding out objectionable content.
In the absence of a better explanation, I can’t help wondering if — don’t laugh — my own speculations about “Django’s” potential cultural impact in China — posted here Wednesday, on the eve of “Django’s” Chinese release — somehow tripped an alarm and triggered last minute jitters somewhere in the upper echelons of the state film bureaucracy.
In my piece yesterday I wondered if “Django” might conceal within its manifest story of a violent slave revolt in the Old South a latent message for China’s subjugated masses, a revolutionary subtext that the cultural gatekeepers in the insulated ranks of China’s ruling Party elite had overlooked.
I closed my piece — and, believe me, this is more awkward for me than it is for you — with these paragraphs:
Nested within the local and historical particulars embedding “Django” in America’s pre-Civil War South is a rabble-rousing call to arms, a timeless and universal narrative of oppression, struggle and freedom. Mr. Tarantino tells the tale of a slave who, with the aid of a sympathetic foreigner, escapes bondage and turns the tables on his ruthless masters in a relentless campaign to regain his family, reclaim his liberty and punish the privileged elite of complacent oppressors who’d kept him in captivity.