The Pentagon Will No Longer Offer Support to Moviemakers Who Censor Their Movies for China

“What does it say to the world when Maverick is scared of the Chinese communists?” (Paramount Pictures)

"What does it say to the world when Maverick is scared of the Chinese communists?" U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a floor speech while discussing the fiscal 2023 defense policy bill.

Cruz was referring to what some eagle-eyed viewer saw in the trailer for the long-awaited "Top Gun" sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick." It turns out the filmmakers had removed the flags of Taiwan and Japan from Maverick's flight jacket. The reason, reported by Politico, was because the studio tried to "appease" Tencent, a China-based backer of the film.

Politico said it obtained a recent Pentagon document that says the U.S. military will no longer offer technical assistance to filmmakers unless they offer a pledge that the final product won't be altered for approval from the Chinese government.

Read: How Hollywood Films Get the US Military as a Co-Star

According to the document, the Department of Defense "will not provide production assistance when there is demonstrable evidence that the production has complied or is likely to comply with a demand from the Government of the People's Republic of China... to censor the content of the project in a material manner to advance the national interest of the People's Republic of China."

The policy has been a long time coming. In May 2023, Cruz, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the "The Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity, Protecting Talkies Act" or SCRIPT Act, an amendment to the fiscal 2023 defense policy bill, which would limit or end Defense Department technical assistance to Hollywood productions if those productions censor their films for viewing in China.

"For too long, Hollywood has been complicit in China's censorship and propaganda in the name of bigger profits," Cruz said in a statement. "The SCRIPT Act will serve as a wakeup call by forcing Hollywood studios to choose between the assistance they need from the American government and the dollars they want from China."

This new Pentagon guidance contains most of the provisions of Cruz's intended legislation, without the legislation. It requires the production company working with the DoD to inform its liaison officer of any changes demanded by a Chinese official, and whether or not the company intends to comply with that demand.

The SCRIPT Act would also require an annual report of films that were submitted to Chinese officials and submitted to the Department of Commerce. Films produced in whole or in part in China will also not be allowed to censor their contents for the Chinese government.

Tencent eventually ended its investment in "Top Gun: Maverick" and the flags reappeared in the final version of the film, but this is just one moment in a long line of censorship requests from Beijing, many of which Hollywood is often only too happy to accommodate. China surpassed North America as the world's biggest market for Hollywood movies in 2020, and moviemakers often depend on its market to break even.

Changes are made despite the fact that Chinese censorship isn't limited to content that makes China look bad. It's known that any content involving Uyghurs, Taiwan or Hong Kong demonstrations won't pass, but the Chinese have also been known to censor same-sex kissing ("Bohemian Rhapsody") and even the Statue of Liberty (noticeably absent from "Spider-Man: No Way Home").

In an effort to appeal to China, "Barbie" included a map of the South China Sea favorable to the Chinese, which got the movie banned in Vietnam. (Warner Bros.)

Studios have been editing films for China as far back as the late 1990s with "Titanic," where actress Kate Winslet's nude body was edited out of the final version. "Iron Man 3" featured Chinese product placement. Films such as "Fight Club" and "Lord of War" had their endings cut off and replaced with text that told audiences the criminals were apprehended.

"This new guidance -- implementing the legislation I authored in the SCRIPT Act -- will force studios to choose one or the other, and I'm cautiously optimistic that they'll make the right choice and reject China's blackmailing," Cruz told Politico.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, or on LinkedIn.

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