Chris Fenton: “We’ve Created a Mess for Us to Fix”

China was once seen to Hollywood as an untapped market of 1.4 billion people.  Movie executives were eager to get Chinese audiences in theater seats watching Hollywood movies, even if that meant they would have to please Beijing.

Chris Fenton, the former General Manager and Motion Picture Group President of DMG Entertainment. said American companies had compromised for short-term gains, with little to show for it in the long run.

Fenton told The Cats Roundtable he knew first hand the “cross-border censorship that’s occurring with China,” with much of his work in the film industry required regular travel to Beijing.

The result of Hollywood’s obsession with the Chinese market is American companies for years were “forced to teach the Chinese how to create their own film industries” in exchange for access to Chinese audiences.

But with Chinese films now filling the Chinese market, Fenton told The Cats Roundtable Americans had lost at China’s gain.

“What we’re seeing now,” Fenton explained, “is a market share that Hollywood used to have in—say, 2010— of 80 percent of every dollar that was made in the theaters there.  It’s dropped down to 16 percent last year, and the year before Covid, it was only 32 percent.”

Ultimately, according to Fenton, Hollywood inadvertently became a tool of the Communist party, and after teaching Beijing its tricks, has now been left behind.

For instance, Fenton pointed his work to the 2012 movie Looper, directed by Ryan Johnson.  While the script originally was set in France, Fenton told The Cats Roundtable the setting was altered to Shanghai 40 years in the future, an alteration made “under the supervision of the Chinese Communist Party.”

“We did that in a way to really promote China,” Fenton admitted. “Almost like you would brand integrate any sort of product into a television show or into a movie.”

Fenton said on top of creating a “promotional film” that glorified where China’s prowess, the Chinese market has grown quickly “into a dominant market off of our backs.”  He called for the US to “decouple in certain respects in order to think about America first”, and for American companies to play a long-game rather than sink the ship for short-term profits.

The overreach of China’s influence into American markets, technologies, and intellectual property is nothing new, but Fenton told The Cats Roundtable it was high time to think of “patriotism before capitalism.”

But the greatest task might be waking Americans up to the real threat posed by China for both her foreign and domestic interests, particularly under a President Biden that many GOP lawmakers fear has unanswered questions concerning his family’s business dealings in China.

“This is something that affects all Americans, red and blue.  So we need to talk about it in a way that everybody can digest and understand that it does affect them,” Fenton urged.  “And we need to follow the course of change, and we need to pressure our leaders, and our business leaders, to do that.”

Listen to the interview below


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