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Well, Ted Cruz has done it, and the Pentagon has been forced to rewrite its doctrine on working with Hollywood to appease the anti-communists.  Or the anti-Chinese.  Or possibly both.  Though how the new rules will be enforced and whether they will have any meaningful effect is a matter of doubt, for me.

Back in May 2020 I reported on Ted Cruz’s SCRIPT act (the Stopping Censorship, Restoring Integrity and Protecting Talkies Act), legislation that proposed that the DOD only provide funding (or technical advice or access to DOD assets) to film-makers if they (a) provide a list of all films they’ve made in the last 10 years that have been submitted to the Chinese authorities to try to get permission to distribute that film in China and (b) sign a contract agreeing not to make any changes to the new, DOD-assisted film in response to demands from the Chinese authorities.  It goes on to say that any film that is co-produced with a Chinese-owned company and which therefore would be subject to influence from that company, who are already familiar with the demands of the Chinese authorities, should be denied DOD support completely.

Unfortunately for Ted, he has the mental capacities of a dead tree and doesn’t realise that – at least officially – the DOD doesn’t provide funding to films or film-makers, and that his proposed bill (which failed) was unworkable and made little sense to anyone familiar with the military-Hollywood system.  I did put in FOIA requests with the DOD and the four main military branches, asking for records of any communications with Cruz or his office over the SCRIPT act.  They all came back saying they couldn’t find any such records.

Later in 2020, in the midst of the astonishingly misdirected argument over the flags on the back of Maverick’s jacket in trailers for the new Top Gun film, Cruz made pointed remarks, trying to keep the issue on the agenda.  As noted by Politico, Cruz gave a speech on the floor about the pressing, unprecedented issue of the symbols on a fictional character’s jacket:

This eventually led to Cruz inserting language in the latest NDAA, requiring the DOD to update their instruction 5410.16, titled DoD Assistance to Non-Government, Entertainment-Oriented Media Productions.  The updated DOD instruction now includes a new paragraph under Policy, saying:

In accordance with Section 1257 of Public Law 117-263 (Reference (c)), the DoD 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, the Chinese Communist Party, or an entity under the direction of the People’s Republic of China or the Chinese Communist Party to censor the content of the project in a material manner to advance the national interest of the People’s Republic of China.

Cruz’s office have been responding to media requests on this update with a celebratory statement, saying:

The Chinese Communist Party spends billions of dollars trying to control what Americans hear, see, and ultimately think – well beyond their efforts to censor film content just for Chinese audiences.  My concerns with Hollywood self-censorship began well before Top Gun, including everything from Hollywood shunning Richard Gere over his stance on Tibet to Marvel changing comic book characters, all to appease the Chinese Communist Party, and much of it done in anticipation of future CCP objections.

In fact, China set up a system that leveraged access to Chinese markets so that Hollywood would preemptively self-censor scripts, visuals, and even casting.  Unfortunately that system worked for much too long, but I’m cautiously optimistic that Hollywood is learning that the cost of kowtowing to the CCP isn’t worth it.

Cruz is patting himself on the back for seeing off the Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry, but how are the Pentagon going to implement this?  A typical DOD-supported production goes to a branch of the military during pre-production, the film-makers go through the script review process and then the military either help make the movie or don’t.  Increasingly, the US military has been trying to get upstream in the creative process, having meetings with studio executives to discuss forthcoming productions before they’ve even been written, and getting involved in the likes of Captain Marvel and Top Gun: Maverick before they even had screenplays.

How would the DOD know at this point which productions are ‘likely to comply with a demand from the Government of the People’s Republic of China’?  After all, every film released in China (whether a Chinese production, a co-production with another country, or a foreign film) has to go through a vetting and censorship process and gain approval from Party officials.  What are Glen Roberts and the others going to ask the film-makers: ‘Are you now or will you ever be willing to compromise your film to get it distributed in the Chinese market?’

Naturally, the press coverage of this updated DOD policy has maximised the Chinese influence on Hollywood, citing Cruz’s statements and speeches, while downplaying the far larger, deeper and longer-term influence wielded by the DOD itself.  Indeed, if the DOD were not a major player in Hollywood then why would they bother updating the policy?  What difference would it make?

Dale Dye, always one for an unexpected opinion, offered a different view to Task and Purpose, saying he hasn’t worked on any military-themed productions that were censored by the Chinese authorities.  He suggested that the Chinese influence isn’t that significant, saying ‘I really don’t think it has much effect… I think it’s smoke and mirrors.’  I certainly agree with that second bit.

In conclusion, this is a jingoistic, impractical policy dreamt up by a remedial class racist which will likely accomplish nothing but PR for the Pentagon’s PR machine (and some for Cruz too) while making no difference to how the world’s most powerful military interacts with the world’s largest entertainment industry.  Another day, another dollar.

Updated DOD Instruction containing new Anti-China Rules for Hollywood

Instruction 5410.16 – DoD Assistance to Non-Government, Entertainment-Oriented Media Productions