Erich Schwartzel, the guest in Episode 4 of New Lines’ Wider Angle podcast, is a journalist and author of “Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy.” In this episode, he joins Riada Asimovic Akyol for a discussion about movies as powerful tools of influence used by world powers in competition for cultural dominance. The implications reach far beyond the entertainment industry.
Schwartzel powerfully explains the history of China’s interest in American films, which grew together with its political influence on the global stage. With smart investments like technology transfer and other long-term strategy advances, Chinese entrepreneurs and officials succeeded in making Hollywood officials, just like many U.S. companies, allow the Chinese regime’s political preferences to guide their business decisions.
China, which became the No. 1 box office in the world in 2020, is today the largest film market. In Schwartzel’s words from his book, the relationship between art and the state in China is such that the country’s movie industry is “a business modeled after America’s but molded to account for the Communist Party’s expectation that art will serve the state.” That relationship has evolved as the wealth and the money that China has made affected moviegoers’ demands for domestic blockbusters and different genres of films they wanted to see on screens in a growing number of local movie theaters. Yet various forms of administrational censorship that have existed for decades, continue the surveillance of the output much before movies appear on-screen.
Listeners and viewers of this podcast episode can also learn about the different aspects of a complicated race for cultural influence between the U.S. and China in other countries around the world and how successful China has been in exporting movies and shows overseas. At the same time, other political and economic initiatives that China has been undertaking, like the Belt and Road initiative, contribute to its assertiveness in altering various countries’ geopolitical positioning. Listen to the conversation to hear a wider angle of China’s blend of authoritarianism and capitalism as a challenge to Western liberal democracy through the ongoing battle for cultural preeminence and China’s dissemination of its movies. It is available wherever you get your podcasts, and you can watch the conversation on New Lines magazine’s YouTube channel here.
“Wider Angle” is produced and hosted by Riada Asimovic Akyol.