- - Monday, May 16, 2016

The federal government has launched a probe into the lack of female directors in Hollywood. Activist groups cheered. I rolled my eyes.

Meanwhile, over in China, where there is a real war on women, mothers are exercising a right they haven’t had in nearly 40 years: the permission to have a second child. Earlier this year China reformed its tyrannical one-child policy into a slightly less tyrannical two-child policy.

Lost in the headlines about China’s phenomenal economic growth is the fact that it’s still run by an authoritarian regime that routinely tramples on human rights to achieve its objectives. And don’t expect to see any of this described in your current choices at the movies. Filmmakers looking to document these atrocities face an uphill battle because of China’s increasing control of the industry.

Chinese mother Xia Runying explains to the BBC what happens if you try to have another child: “More than 20 people came to my home; they dragged me like I was a pig; they took me to a population control center; I resisted but they told me that the sterilization had to happen that day.”

“I did fall pregnant a second time,” says another mother, “but I had an abortion . You either go willingly or the government comes for you.” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Mei Fong interviewed one woman who worked at one of these control centers and by her own account had committed over 1,500 forced abortions, many of them late-term.

Though forced abortions and sterilizations are now officially against the law, experts say they are still common. Crippling fines and getting fired from your job are the official penalties. They are enforced by family planning bureaus that hire local monitors to look for any signs of growing bellies. Pregnant fugitives are aplenty.

Historically, one of the best ways to expose such a mass violation of human rights is through film. But in this case, it is increasingly difficult to do so because of China’s growing direct and indirect control of soft communications like movies and radio.

In China, movie theaters are opening at a rate of 15 per day, and the country is expected to surpass North America as the world’s largest movie market within a few years. This means the financial success of movies now often depend on their distribution in China. Given that China won’t show movies critical of it, filmmakers must self-censor their messages for financial reasons. Movies critical of China simply won’t get financing today, says City University media professor Ying Zhu.

In the United States, the Chinese government is connected to the purchase of AMC movie theaters, which is seeking to acquire Carmike Cinemas to create the country’s largest cinema chain. This means that the Chinese government can effectively censor what movies are shown to American audiences. And Legendary Entertainment, a Hollywood production studio, has now been put under the Chinese umbrella. Couple that to the recent deal to invest in Lionsgate production and you can see the insidious invasion of Chinese script approval in our movies.

Think this is farfetched? It’s already happening. In “Mission Impossible III,” the Chinese government demanded a scene critical of Shanghai be cut, so it was removed from the movie. Or consider the 2012 remake of “Red Dawn,” which originally featured China invading American towns. Chinese government officials convinced filmmakers to turn the aggressors into North Koreans in postproduction. If the government won’t allow such theatrical negative depictions, it certainly wouldn’t allow a feature film that exposed its authoritarian policies and their ramifications.

China is on a buying spree of American property, including high-profile acquisitions of American companies like Strategic Hotels & Resorts and Ingram Micro. These follow acquisitions of GE appliances and Smithfield hams. While most of these purchases don’t scream “national security threat” (toasters and bacon production don’t rise to that level) there are some that are evolving under the radar.

Chinese companies with ties to the Communist controlled-government have also been buying up radio transmission properties around the world and in the United States. The nation’s capital is getting radio news shows beamed in from Northern Virginia by Chinese-controlled WCRW with a Chinese spin on its diplomatic, political and business dealings. Observers see these communications acquisitions as Exhibit A in the projection of “soft power” through public opinion formation and the resulting pressure on our government’s foreign policy.

Let’s put aside the domestic comedy that is going after Hollywood for its lack of female directors. Instead, let’s focus on the tragedy that is China’s ongoing control of women’s bodies, USA assets and the movie industry.

Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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