Report: Hollywood Actors Blacklisted in China as Trade War Continues

Moviegoers make their way to a multiplex cinema in Beijing on February 14, 2009, where Taiwanese film "Cape No. 7", as advertised on top right, hit movie screens in China with its opening. The Taiwanese blockbuster finally hit movie screens in China after a two-month delay widely believed linked to …
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The Financial Times reported on Thursday that a growing number of American actors have been effectively blacklisted from the Chinese film and television industries.

Many of the banned actors reportedly believe Chinese studios are shutting them out in retaliation for the trade war.

The blacklisted actors tend to be people who moved to China to fill the demand for non-Chinese actors in the burgeoning film industry, rather than major Hollywood stars who dabble in the occasional Chinese production.

China currently has more movie screens than the United States, and its box office is a major source of revenue, occasionally producing worldwide top-grossing movies that go virtually unseen in America. The Chinese studio system has developed an appetite for actors who can play foreign roles while working well with Chinese production crews.

An actor named Matt William Knowles told the Financial Times his contract in China was expressly terminated due to the trade war. “I can only assume it looks bad for them to be working with an American,” he said of his former employers.

“The Chinese film industry has afforded me opportunities that I never dreamt possible. No matter what happens, I will never give up [on] China. That is why what is happening with this political climate is so hurtful to me,” Knowles said.

Other American actors said they could still find work with Chinese film and television productions, but they described the environment as tense and suggested the studios are treading lightly to avoid orders from Beijing to get rid of their American employees.

The blacklisting phenomenon was noticed as far back as May when Foreign Policy noted that entire film and TV projects in China have been canceled because they relied too heavily upon American actors or locations. Other projects quickly rewrote roles so that American actors would not be needed.

According to Foreign Policy’s sources, Chinese media executives have not been explicitly ordered to avoid employing Americans, but they believe such orders could be issued at any moment, so they are proactively dumping Americans to avoid drawing the attention of the Communist Party.

An American actor told the South China Morning Post that he was dropped from three different television roles in a matter of days and was told by casting agents that orders have been quietly issued to avoid employing American actors.

Entertainment products from other countries, such as South Korea and Japan, have been implicitly or explicitly banned in the past to support Beijing’s foreign policy agenda. Sometimes the bans take the form of highly convenient “technical difficulties” that prevent foreign media from being screened or televised in China. The Chinese entertainment industry is nervous and dazed after a string of such crackdowns forced them to shoulder significant financial losses.

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