Warner Bros., the studio behind the latest in the Wizarding World franchise movie Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, agreed to edit out two references to same-sex relationships from the film following demands from Chinese government censors.
The censored dialogue, the removal of which ensured that the government would allow the film to be released to the public, occurs during a scene between main characters Albus Dumbledore, played by Jude Law, and Gellert Grindelwald, played by Mads Mikkelsen.
The lines, which amounted to six seconds in total, were “…because I was in love with you” and “The summer Gellert and I fell in love,” reports the South China Morning Post.
In 2007, J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series, declared that Dumbledore, who became the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry later in life, is gay, although he was never referenced as such in the books.
Dumbledore’s sexual orientation was subsequently hinted at in the first two Fantastic Beasts films — which serve as prequels to the Harry Potter films — but it’s not until The Secrets of Dumbledore that the character’s sexuality if fully acknowledged on screen. (He was involved in a love affair with dark wizard Grindelwald when the two were younger.)
Warner Bros. has since attempted to downplay the significance of the censored lines, claiming the edits were “minor” and were made to “respond sensitively to a variety of in-market factors.” The studio claims the edits had no overall impact on the film experience for moviegoers.
“A six-second cut was requested and Warner Bros accepted those changes to comply with local requirements but the spirit of the film remains intact,” the studio said. “We want audiences everywhere in the world to see and enjoy this film, and it’s important to us that Chinese audiences have the opportunity to experience it as well, even with these minor edits.”
Same-sex relationships are often censored in foreign films released in China, due the ruling Communist regime’s occasional crackdowns on homosexuality and gender-nonconformity. For instance, the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was censored to remove all references to the Queen singer’s sexual orientation. Even actor Rami Malek’s Oscars acceptance speech for playing Mercury was altered in subtitles, replacing the words “gay man” with “special group.”
According to news.com.au, only 37 foreign films a year are allowed to be screened in Chinese cinema. But China’s emergence during the COVID-19 pandemic as the biggest market for moviegoers has led some film studios to kowtow to Chinese government demands for censorship in order to gain access to the country’s 1.44 billion consumers, and the money they could potentially spend on tickets and film-related merchandise.
For example, Chinese government censors objected to a patch of four flags — including the Japanese and Taiwanese flags — on the bomber jacket of Tom Cruise’s character in the 2019 Top Gun sequel Maverick, which is finally being released in China.
To appease the censors, who do not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan and regard the island as part of China’s territory (not to mention centuries-long tensions between Japan and China), the flags were replaced by other symbols.
Some filmmakers have refused to cut scenes to appease censors, including Quentin Tarantino, whose most recent film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has been indefinitely barred from being released in China due to, among other factors, the film’s portrayal of martial arts hero Bruce Lee.
Some have been critical of Hollywood studios that choose profits over free speech. Daniel Camilo, a Chinese-based writer who primarily focuses on the gaming industry, tweeted, “The movie is produced by Warner Bros. They made the choice to allow the content to be censored in order for the movie to be played in China, and profit from that distribution deal. They could have chosen not to. They decided that it’s worth it to censor gay people. Consider that.”
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