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Thread: The Eternals

  1. #1
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    The Eternals

    Might as well get this thread rolling with this...

    Gemma Chan in Talks for Marvel's 'The Eternals'
    AUGUST 05, 2019 2:31PM by Mia Galuppo


    Gemma Chan | David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

    'Chernobyl' actor Barry Keoghan is also joining Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden in the project.
    Gemma Chan is ready for more Marvel Studios.

    Chan is in talks to join Marvel's The Eternals, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. The Captain Marvel and Crazy Rich Asians star will join a cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek and Kumail Nanjiani.

    Barry Keoghan, known for Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk and HBO's Chernobyl, is also joining The Eternals, THR has confirmed.

    Chloe Zhao is directing the superhero adventure project, based on the 1976 comic book series created by Jack Kirby. The heroes got a dusting off in the 2000s by author Neil Gaiman. The project features the superpowered and near-immortal beings known as Eternals and a more monstrous offshoot known as the Deviants that were created by cosmic beings known as Celestials.

    At this year's San Diego Comic-Con, it was revealed that Jolie would play Thena, an Eternal that has has super strength, speed and stamina. As previously reported, Madden will be playing Ikaris and Hayek will play Ajak.

    The isn't the first Marvel movie for Chan, who was recently seen in the Brie Larsen-starrer Captain Marvel, where she played Minn-Erva. It is unclear whether the part Chan will be playing in The Eternals will be that of her Captain Marvel role or a different character.

    The Eternals is set to hit theaters Nov. 6, 2020.

    Chan is repped by WME and the U.K.'s Independent.

    Aug. 5, 2:56 p.m. Updated to include the casting of Barry Keoghan.
    Gene Ching
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  2. #2

    Who Are the Eternals, the Cosmic Superheroes Who Could Be the Future of the MCU?

    By James Whitbrook
    Understanding The Eternals requires a bit of a leap back to before their creation—and even to another comics publisher.

    At the start of the 1970s, Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics. This departure came after a creative run which had seen him help bring to life some of the publisher’s most iconic superheroes—but he was steadily worn down by growing discontent with the way he was credited and treated for his work at the company. Finally deciding enough was enough, Kirby jumped ship to Marvel’s biggest rival, DC Comics, and immediately started work on his next great epic: the Fourth World, a cosmic realm of gods and otherworldly beings that gave birth to the New Gods pantheon of characters and one of DC’s most infamous villains, Darkseid.

    But while Kirby launched an array of books that kicked off this brave new frontier, his time at DC didn’t last. Just five years later, Kirby found himself unsatisfied with being forced to work on projects he didn’t want to, and decided to return once more to Marvel. And that’s where The Eternals, the first series Kirby created after his return to the company, finally comes in.

    So why did you need to know about DC’s New Gods before that? Because basically, The Eternals is kinda Kirby’s Marvel riff on his own work.

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    Ikaris explains the difference between Deviant, Human, and Eternal in Eternals #1.
    Image: Jack Kirby, John Verpoorten, Glynis Wein, and Gaspar Saladino (Marvel Comics)

    Launched in 1976, The Eternals followed the titular group of characters: an uplifted subrace of humankind who’d been experimented on by the Marvel cosmics’ all-powerful divine entities, the Celestials, five million years in the past. The Celestials (for non-comic readers, beings like Star-Lord’s dad Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) created two separate races out of their experiments: the Eternals, human-looking, quasi-immortal beings with superpowers; and the Deviants, a grotesque, monstrous byproduct of the experiments that created a race of vengeful beings who would be forever envious of the Eternals.

    The Celestials tasked the Eternals with using their superpowers to protect the Earth from the threat of the Deviants, and then went on about their merry cosmic way. Interestingly, it was retconned that a faction of Eternals left Earth and headed first to Uranus and then to Titan, making the cosmic beings that hailed from those planets (the Uranians and Titanians) Eternals rather than separate races. So technically, we’ve already met an Eternal in the MCU: Thanos! (Even if the film didn’t actually acknowledge that comic book factoid about the Mad Titan.) Thanos isn’t a full Deviant in the comics though, but rather an Eternal born with the “Deviant syndrome,” a mutant in Eternal biology that gives him some of the defects of the Deviant subrace.

    While each Eternal has different individual powers and abilities, they have a few shared traits. Aside from long-lasting life and regenerative properties, Eternals could also manipulate cosmic energy in a similar manner to the Celestials, and any gathered group of three could merge their forms into a psionic entity known as a Unimind, which amplified the powers of the three Eternals it was made up of. You know, kind of like the gems from Steven Universe.

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    The Eternals (and Kor the Deviant) officially meet humankind in Eternals #6.
    Image: Jack Kirby, Mike Royer, and Glynis Wein (Marvel Comics)

    Kirby’s Eternals series would also be short-lived—it only lasted until 1978. It saw the Eternals, lead by Ikaris, make themselves known to the wider world after the arrival of a new host of Celestials on the planet, prompting an attack by the Deviants that drove Ikaris (who had been operating under the human guise of Ike Harris) to reunite with Sersi (who could craft illusions and move objects with her telekinetic powers), Makarri (who specialized in superspeed), and Thena (who manipulated cosmic energy to shoot beams of heat and light).

    The Eternals themselves would slink back into their hidden city of Olympia (based, you guessed it, on Mount Olympus) and into the background of the Marvel universe. But their role in the foundation of practically everything we know of Marvel’s Earth, and connections to the wider cosmic diaspora, has made them important tools to be used in other series. The experiments that made them are sometimes seen as the foundation of the existence of superpowers on Earth full stop, and Kirby envisioned the long-lived beings as the Marvel universe’s equivalent stand-in for the ancient gods of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman theologies, as the Norse pantheon was to the Asgardians.

    While the characters would exist in their own miniseries again in 1985 and 2006 (which led to another quickly-canceled ongoing series launched in 2007), the Eternals have mostly stayed far in the background in the comics. But, if the rumors that preceded Feige’s confirmation of potential plans for an Eternals movie are to be believed, one major character from the second of those miniseries, by Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr., could be a significant player in the movie: Sersi.

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    Sersi, as she appeared on the cover of Eternals #2 in 2006.
    Image: Rick Berry (Marvel Comics)

    Sersi has been around for a lot longer than the 2006 Eternals series. She actually first showed up in the third issue of Kirby’s Eternals series, and eventually became a prominent member of the Avengers after that concluded. It was revealed that Proctor, an alternate-reality version of her boyfriend Dane Whitman (the medieval superhero Black Knight), was hatching an elaborate plot to murder every version of Sersi in the multiverse for rejecting him in the greatest overreaction to being turned down in comics history. The Eternals came to Sersi’s aid, but she was so traumatized by Proctor’s meddling, she peaced out and opened a gateway to a limbo realm between the layers of the multiverse to hang out with Black Knight, never to be seen again...well, until she reappeared in that 2006 series.

    In that book, Sersi, like many of her fellow Eternals, has no memory of being part of this fantastical subrace (eventually revealed as being due to a fellow Eternal, Sprite, wiping the collective minds of several Eternals in an attempt to make them become ordinary humans). She also doesn’t remember her time as an Avenger, instead making a living planning parties as a New York socialite—a life she chose to return to after the Eternals were given their memories back during a conflict with an ancient Celestial awakened by the Deviants to judge Humanity. Since then, she and her fellow Eternals have remained fairly obscure in the comics until pretty recently, although not in a good way:

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    Doctor Strange and Iron Man discover that Olympia has fallen in Avengers #4.
    Image: Paco Medina, Ed McGuinness, Juan Vlasco, Mark Morales, David Curiel, and Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)

    Because they’re all pretty much dead now.

    The current run of Avengers—penned by Jason Aaron, with art from Ed McGuinness, Paco Medina, Mark Morales, David Curiel, Juan Vlasco, and more—opened with a story arc about the return of a race of “Dark Celestials,” a group that had been corrupted by their cosmic balance check, an insectoid swarm dedicated to feeding on the energy of existence called the Horde.


    The deaths of several Celestials to the Horde’s cosmic bloodbath—as well as the revelation to the Eternals that they were not designed as humanity’s protectors by the Celestials, but instead a virus that could be cultivated to destroy the Horde—drove the Eternals insane, causing them to kill themselves and each other.

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    Ikaris passes on the power of the Unimind—the legacy of the Eternals—to Tony Stark before dying.
    Image: Paco Medina, Ed McGuinness, Juan Vlasco, Mark Morales, David Curiel, and Cory Petit (Marvel Comics)

    Pretty much every notable Eternal (including the original team) is dead, but not before Ikaris granted Iron Man the ability to use the Unimind during the Avengers’ cataclysmic battle with the Dark Celestials.

    Obscure as they are, the Eternals have a long and confusing history interwoven through decades of Marvel comics. The basic beats of their gimmick have even been introduced into Marvel’s live-action universe, through the similar “hidden superpowered subrace of mankind” tropes found in the Inhumans (which could also crop up again with the X-Men, now that we live in a post-Disney/Fox deal world). Suffice to say, they’re a perplexing choice as a potential force in Marvel’s grand “Phase 4” plans and beyond.

    But obscurity and comic book weirdness have not stopped Marvel Studios before—after all, look at Guardians of the Galaxy. Not only do the Guardians films provide evidence that the Marvel Movieverse can turn barely-remembered comics characters into box office stars, they sow enough seeds between the Celestials and the cosmic diaspora of Marvel’s spacebound characters that there’s already a path for the Eternals to carve into the box office. Who knows, maybe Zhao’s film will herald another wave of unlikely movie heroes?

  3. #3
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    Yo DS

    I'm completely naive to the Eternals. What do you think of the casting?

    Who Are Marvel's Eternals?
    AUGUST 06, 2019 9:30AM by Richard Newby


    'The Eternals' | Courtesy of Marvel Comics

    Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden will bring characters to life who are even less known than the Guardians of the Galaxy were before their MCU debut.
    Marvel Studios is venturing into a bold new realm with Eternals, an adaptation of Jack Kriby’s sci-fi saga of an immortal alien race of godlike beings, their evil counterparts and the Celestials who created them on planets across the universe. The film continues to cast up, with Gemma Chan and Barry Keoghan the latest to join the cast.

    Unlike Marvel Studios’ other Phase 4 announcements, filmmaker Chloe Zhao’s Eternals consists of largely unknown characters, arguably even less recognizable than the Guardians of the Galaxy were before their 2014 movie. While the pic’s lead characters are only a small part of the entirety of beings who make up the Eternals, they’re a significant part of the concepts and conflicts that make up Kirby’s narrative and the world of the film. No doubt Zhao has plenty of surprises in store for the movie, which is said to be more of an eons spanning sci-fi epic than a superhero film. But we’ll give you a quick head start by asking the question that’s been circulating after Comic-Con: Who exactly are the Eternals?

    Thena (Angelina Jolie)

    The Eternals’ counterpart to the Greek goddess Athena, Thena is a warrior and student of history. In the comics, the Greek gods chose many of the Eternals to represent them on Earth, leading humans to believe the aliens were in fact the gods they worshipped. I expect the film will streamline this and simply make the Eternals and the gods one and the same, similar to how Thor (2011) explained that the Asgardians are aliens who were in turn worshipped by humans as gods. And speaking of Thor, Thena has been an ally of the Avengers in the past, and I wouldn’t be shocked if the God of Thunder appears somewhere within the history of her life. Thena’s relationship with the Eternals is made complicated by her romance with Kro, the devilish leader of the Deviants who is the father of her twin children. When The Eternals was first announced, it was rumored to focus on the love story between Ikaris and Sersi, which led me to speculate Jolie was playing Sersi. But with Sersi surprisingly missing from the lineup, it’s possible that Kro may be set for a role, and that Thena’s arc will see her caught up in love and war, with the character torn between the Eternals and her Deviant lover.

    Ikaris (Richard Madden)

    The face of the Eternals, Ikaris is 20,000 years old and has lived a life of hope and despair as the most human member of his race. It was he who led Noah’s ark to safety and was mistaken for a dove after the Celestials flooded the world. It was he who first defeated Apocalypse, the world’s first mutant, only to lead to great mutant conflict millennia later. And it was he who provided the inspiration for the story of Daedalus and Icarus when he built his son a pair of metal wings that eventually cost the boy his life. Despite the tragedy that took his son and gave him his name, Ikaris is known for his love of mankind. He is drawn to the life of a superhero, and even took up professional wrestling for a while to be closer to humans. Ikaris’ zest for life has created a rivalry with Thena for the leadership position, which I should expect to see come into play in Zhao’s film.

    Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani)

    One of the less frequently appearing members of the Eternals and arguably the most due for a reinvention, Kingo operates under the persona of a Japanese samurai. Having spent centuries in Japan, he rarely uses his Eternal powers of flight, cosmic energy projection and super-strength, instead preferring the teachings of his clan and the challenge of a fair fight. As the centuries passed, Kingo transitioned from Samurai to action film star. It’s tough to say exactly how the character’s arc will play out in the pic, or if any of the samurai persona will remain. But here's to hoping Nanjiani gets to wield a sword.

    Ajak (Salma Hayek)

    The only Eternal who can directly communicate with his creators, the Celestials, Ajak is the archaeologist of his race. While most of the Eternals made their homes in Greece early in Earth’s history and Kingo made his in Japan, Ajak settled in South America, where he was worshipped as Tecumotzin by the Incas,and Quetzalcoatl by the Aztecs. In the 21st century, he became a member of the God Squad, consisting of Thor, Hercules, Sersi, Silver Surfer and Galactus, to battle the Skrulls’ gods in the aftermath of the Secret Invasion. The film version of the character will not only be a woman, but will also be the leader of the Eternals, a role that has traditionally gone to the elder, Zuras, in the comics.

    Makkari (Lauren Ridloff)

    The counterpart of the Greek god Mercury, Makkari is known for his speed, but is also one of the most intelligent members of the Eternals as the engineer responsible for creating many of their vehicles. Like Ikaris, Makkari is drawn to mankind and often finds himself caught up in their lives. A disciple of language and philosophy, Makkari taught Egyptians how to write under the alias Thoth, and studied under Plato. Despite his scholarly interests, Makkari was not above seeking out the thrill of superheroism. He took on the persona of the Hurricane in the 1940s. He also forged close bonds with Ikaris when the two remained on Earth to deal with the Deviants’ threats to humanity in the later half of the 20th century. In the film, Makkari will be a woman, and will also be the first deaf hero introduced within the MCU.

    Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry)

    Phastos is the only Eternal announced for the movie who was not created by Jack Kirby. Created by Peter Gillis and Sal Buscema, Phastos is the counterpart of Hephaestus and is the weapons builder and technologist for the Eternals. Though a pacifist at heart, he is not against begrudgingly joining the battle when the need arises. But his pacifism is not out of any love for humanity. In fact, Phastos believes all life is meaningless, and he remains on Earth with Ikaris and Makkari in the hopes that he will find something or someone that will convince him of a greater purpose.

    Gilgamesh (Don Lee)

    One of the few Eternals that has also served as an Avenger, Gilgamesh, also known as The Forgotten One, was an exile of the Eternals. Judged for meddling too closely in the affairs of humans, Gilgamesh struck out on his own, inspiring early legends of superheroes and gods. He was drawn back to aid the Eternals in their fight against the Deviants,where his valor granted him the new name, Hero. Despite his renewed acceptance by the Eternals, Gilgamesh was drawn back to human affairs and joined the Avengers in the late '80s. He is the strongest of all Eternals, and has gone toe-to-toe with Thor and Hercules.

    Sprite (Lia McHugh)

    The youngest member of the Eternals, Sprite is a childlike trickster, said to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Puck. While more playful than malicious, Neil Gaiman made Sprite the villain of his run on the Eternals, with the character wiping the memories and powers of all the Eternals on Earth so that he could escape his responsibilities of protecting the planet and finally grow beyond his 11-year-old form and experience the pleasures of an adult. Like Makkari and Ajak, Sprite will bolster the female presence of the Eternals. While there’s still more casting to come, the lack of a villain so far suggests that Sprite could ultimately fulfill that role. And a childlike adversary would certainly bring something new to the MCU.

    The history of Marvel’s Eternals is complicated and filled with retcons and multiple aliases, but I expect these characters to be just as easy to grasp and appreciate as all the Marvel C-listers that have come before and re-emerged as A-listers. With the film gearing up to start production, there will certainly be a lot more to learn about The Eternals before it hits theaters Nov. 6, 2020.
    I'll watch Salma in pretty much anything.
    Gene Ching
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  4. #4

    I wonder if they'll Angelina Jolie will be a blonde

    These characters are so obscure that I suspect few will notice the gender swaps or color-fluid casting.

    Richard Madden has been needing a role in the MCU so I think that casting is great. Her roles in Beowolf and Alexander might inform Jolie's take on Thena, details like blonde hair are negligible so long as they capture Jack Kirby's design aesthetic.
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    Can you imagine Selma in that purple number? As for Gemma Chan, she was a delight in CAPTAIN MARVEL and would be grand as Circe (the character Jolie was originally rumored to play).
    Some more gems . . .
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  5. #5
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    Good to know I wasn't the only one obscured...

    Quote Originally Posted by Design Sifu View Post
    like blonde hair are negligible so long as they capture Jack Kirby's design aesthetic.
    burly biceps & big boobs? check.

    Quote Originally Posted by Design Sifu View Post
    Can you imagine Selma in that purple number?
    I never got past her outfit (or lack thereof) in Everly.
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  6. #6
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    More postponements


    BY KYLIE HEMMERT ON SEPTEMBER 23, 2020

    Black Widow Release Date Pushed Along With Eternals, Shang-Chi & More!



    Walt Disney Studios has announced new release schedules for a number of movies, including Black Widow, previously dated for November 6, 2020, and now moving to May 7, 2021, and Eternals, previously dated on February 12, 2021, and now scheduled to release on November 5, 2021.

    Death on the Nile has shifted to December 18, 2020, moving back from its October 23, 2020 release. The Empty Man has moved up to the October 23, 2020 release from its December 4, 2020 slot, and Shang Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings will now release on July 9, 2021, from its original release date of May 7, 2021. An Untitled Disney Event Film that was previously dated for July 9, 2021 has been removed from the schedule.

    Additionally, Deep Water will now release on August 13, 2021, moving back from its November 13, 2020 release date, with West Side Story moving back to December 10, 2021, from its previous release date of December 18, 2020. The King’s Man will now premiere on February 12, 2021, moving up from its February 26, 2021 release date. An Untitled 20th Century film previously dated on August 13, 2021 has been removed from the schedule.

    Eternals will now open against Paramount Pictures’ Clifford the Big Red Dog, Warner Bros.’ Elvis, and Sony’s untitled Spider-Man: Far From Home sequel. Death on the Nile will open against Paramount’s Coming 2 America and Warner Bros. Dune, while Shang Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings will now open against Universal’s The Forever Purge. The King’s Man will open against Universal’s Marry Me and Paramount PIctures The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

    Scarlett Johansson returns as Natasha Romanoff, a spy and assassin who grew up being trained by the KGB before breaking from their grasp and becoming an agent of SHIELD and an Avenger. The film is expected to be set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, but before Avengers: Infinity War.

    Black Widow will also feature a star-studded cast including Golden Globe nominee David Harbour (Stranger Things, Hellboy) as Alexei aka The Red Guardian, Florence Pugh (Fighting with My Family) as Yelena Belova, Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) as Melina and O-T ***benle (The Handmaid’s Tale) as Mason. The movie was directed by Cate Shortland (Lore) from a script written by Jac Schaeffer (The Hustle).
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  7. #7
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    Marvel Studios’ Eternals | Official Teaser

    Gene Ching
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  8. #8

    For anyone who might want to read the comic

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    For anyone who might want to read the comic.

  9. #9
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    Not convinced this is anything more than rumor yet...

    Angelina Jolie Returning To One Of Her Biggest Franchises?
    By APEKSHA BAGCHI | 2 DAYS AGO


    Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider- The Cradle of Life, released in the early 2000s, were the first live-action adaptations of the popular Tomb Raider video games. While they weren’t well-received by the critics, Angelina Jolie’s performance as the titular character was always heartily praised. And now, a report has emerged which says that the Eternals star is all set to return to the franchise.

    As per insider Daniel Richtman, the “studio” is once again seeking out Angelina Jolie as they want the actress to return to the franchise. But like always, Richtman’s report is a little short on details, starting with which studio wants Jolie’s return in the first place. While the original films were bankrolled by Paramount, the reboot starring Alicia Vikander was distributed by MGM and Warner Bros. Pictures.

    Back in 2004, despite the negative reviews received by the first two Lara Croft films headlined by Angelina Jolie, their commercial success was enough to push Paramount to announce a third film in the series. But all the plans were permanently benched when Jolie refused to star in another film as she felt there was no need to make another film in the series. The possibility that the plans have been renewed could be considered if not for the fact that the franchise has been rebooted and a sequel to the 2018 film starring Vikander is already in development.


    So, if any studio is really seeking out Angelina Jolie for her return to the franchise it has to be MGM and/or Warner Bros. Pictures who are bankrolling the sequel to the reboot. In his report, Richtman also adds that while this anonymous studio wants her to make a comeback in the Tomb Raider franchise, they have a different role for her in mind as the franchise now has Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. The filming of the sequel to the 2018 film was supposed to begin in 2020 in England, South Africa, Finland, and China but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

    With the beginning of 2021, work on the sequel has restarted. In January it was announced that Misha Green of Lovecraft Country fame will be making her directorial debut with the film and will also pen its script. Earlier in May, Green shared that she has completed the first draft for the sequel and currently, the working title is Tomb Raider: Obsidian. As of now, the cast of the film is yet to be announced, so there is every possibility that Angelina Jolie has been or will be pitched the script of the film. Whether she accepts whatever role the studio has in mind for her or not, depends on her.

    In the meantime, Angelina Jolie awaits the release of Marvel’s Eternals. The film will mark her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut and will see her as the immortal superhero Thena who can fashion any weapon out of cosmic energy. Currently, the film is scheduled to be released on November 5, 2021, as part of Phase Four of the MCU.
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  10. #10
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    Sold out? It's Hollywood. Does that term have any meaning there at all?

    How Hollywood Sold Out to China
    A culture of acquiescing to Beijing’s censors is now the norm, and there’s little sign of it changing.

    By Shirley Li

    Wang Zhao / AFP / Getty
    7:00 AM ET
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    Chloé zhao, the director of Nomadland, is new Hollywood royalty. In April, she made history as the first woman of color to win Best Director at the Oscars. In November, her big-budget Marvel movie, Eternals, will arrive in theaters. She commands so much admiration from the industry right now that she gets away with showing up to the red carpet of a film premiere in jeans.

    Zhao was, for a time, just as warmly regarded in China. Born in Beijing, she also has ties to Chinese entertainment royalty: Her stepmother, Song Dandan, is one of the most celebrated comic actresses in the country. And Zhao’s success in Hollywood made her the model of a crossover artist, bringing Chinese sensibilities to American filmmaking. In March, the Communist Party–owned newspaper Global Times anointed her “the pride of China.”

    But then an eight-year-old interview in which Zhao called the country a place “where there are lies everywhere” spread online. Beijing responded by deleting social-media celebrations of her Oscar win and canceling the release of Nomadland. Eternals, which should have been a shoo-in to screen across China, now faces a potential ban. Swiftly and quietly, Zhao’s native country appears to have disowned her—at least, for now. (Zhao declined to comment on the matter.)

    Hers is a cautionary tale—and a common one these days. No matter their clout in Hollywood, filmmakers and actors have always been subject to bosses who decide which movies get to soar at the box office and which are left to languish. Now, more than ever before, that boss is Beijing.

    In 2020, the Chinese film market officially surpassed North America’s as the world’s biggest box office, all but ensuring that Hollywood studios will continue to do everything possible for access to the country. This also means China will assert itself more aggressively to control Hollywood. The country, which already places a quota on the number of foreign films that can be screened every year, banned them for nearly two months this summer because of celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party’s founding.

    Meanwhile, China’s film industry now churns out its own big-budget franchises, lessening the country’s dependence on the next Fast & Furious installment. Though some American filmmakers, such as Quentin Tarantino and Judd Apatow, have pushed back on China’s demands, they are the rare exceptions willing and able to weather any potential repercussions. Instead, the film industry has regularly shaped its productions to please Beijing; whenever Hollywood fails, it either issues self-flagellatory public apologies or remains silent on the matter altogether. (Universal, Disney, and the other major Hollywood studios I reached out to for this story all declined to comment or did not respond to my requests.)

    With studios now implementing their own limits on free speech, America’s supposedly gutsy, creative entertainment industry is at rapid risk of making preemptive self-censorship the standard. During the blacklist era of the 1940s and ’50s, Hollywood studios infamously submitted to domestic political pressure. Today, film censorship—the rise of which you can literally watch on screen—has become one of the most visible examples of American businesses bending their values to satisfy China, and a worrying harbinger for any industry that wants access to the country’s consumers. China has simply become too lucrative for Hollywood to resist.
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    Gilles Sabrié / The New York Times / Redux
    What critics might call censorship, Hollywood studios might label a market-entry strategy. The phenomenon has long been part of the global film industry. Post–World War II West German audiences saw a different version of Casablanca than the rest of the world. Last Tango in Paris, with its notoriously explicit sex scenes, was edited before it could be released in Britain and barred from being shown in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. Three Nordic countries placed an age restriction on the film E.T. in 1982 after child psychologists accused the film of portraying adults as “enemies of children.”

    Thus, when China re-allowed Hollywood movies in the late 1980s and ’90s (they were banned during the Cultural Revolution) as long as it could select and edit the ones it wanted, American companies didn’t see red flags. “It’s all a version of self-regulation we’ve been going through for decades,” says Russell Schwartz, a former president of marketing at New Line Cinema and at Relativity Media, who oversaw campaigns for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Rush Hour sequels.

    When China began seriously investing in—not just importing, but co-producing or financing—Hollywood films in the 2000s, the country represented pure opportunity. “Everybody was doing backflips” to get their films screened, Schwartz told me. The Chinese government, which oversees the country’s entertainment industry, imposes a quota on international movies—34 a year, occasionally a couple extra—and determines release dates, how much advertising a film receives, and the number of theaters in which it can screen. Foreign studios, Schwartz told me, lobby fiercely for their titles to be allowed entry.

    Hollywood’s admittance into China might have appeared to be an opportunity for America to promote Western ideals in an authoritarian country. However, according to Wendy Su, an associate professor of media and cultural studies at UC Riverside and the author of China’s Encounter With Global Hollywood, Hollywood only ever had one, all-encompassing objective: “the vast Chinese market and the potential for greater profits,” she wrote over email. The country had been “extraordinarily underscreened” only two decades ago, Schwartz noted, but built theaters so quickly that it now boasts more than 75,500 screens, according to a report released in February (the U.S. had roughly 41,000 as of 2020). Films that underperform in the States can thus recuperate their losses abroad.

    Today, China’s box office doesn’t just represent opportunity for Hollywood; it can mean the difference between a studio’s success and failure. This has resulted in “anticipatory self-censorship” by the American film industry, says James Tager, the research director at PEN America, a nonprofit that promotes free expression, and the lead author of the organization’s exhaustive 2020 censorship report. Besides casting mainland-Chinese actors and shooting on location in China, the study says, studios even have regulators visit their sets—as was reportedly the case for Iron Man 3. (Marvel and Disney did not respond to a request for comment.)

    The Chinese government encourages this chilling effect by setting confusing, ever-shifting expectations, Tager told me. Time-travel narratives like Back to the Future were deemed “frivolous” and disrespectful of history—especially if such stories suggested the ability to alter reality. But 2012’s Looper, featuring scenes shot in Shanghai, with dialogue depicting China as a representation of the future, made it past censors. A culture of trying to predict the country’s needs is now the norm: Stories portraying Chinese characters as antagonists or featuring disagreement with Beijing in regions such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Xinjiang have been assumed off-limits. But China has also banned scenes from Bohemian Rhapsody, apparently for depicting same-sex relationships, and prohibited Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest altogether for including ghosts and cannibalism.

    Still, obvious pandering to Beijing can backfire in China. Audiences call a Chinese actor who appears in a Hollywood movie but plays a minimal role a hua ping, or a “flower vase”: nothing more than a recognizable face lazily included to help sell tickets. As the country’s own filmmaking industry has grown stronger, Chinese moviegoers have become more discerning about which foreign films to watch, and Hollywood’s share of the Chinese box office has lessened. Though action-thrillers such as Ready Player One fill seats in China, comedies still struggle to connect. “Many prospective clients have misinformed notions that China can be a savior market if you can only gain access,” Rance Pow, the CEO of Artisan Gateway, a consulting firm focused on Asia’s film industry, told me over email. “In fact … China can be a challenging, sometimes unforgiving environment for foreign fare.”

    If china’s apparent crackdown on Chloé Zhao’s work is a cautionary tale, then the case of John Cena is a tragicomic one. The WWE star turned actor appeared in this summer’s ​F9, the latest Fast & Furious blockbuster, and Universal Pictures jumped through all the right hoops to ensure its success. The film, co-produced with the state-owned China Film Group Corporation, premiered in China as well as several other places more than a month ahead of its stateside release—the longest lag ever for a Hollywood movie and a date seemingly chosen to accommodate the CCP’s centenary plans.

    Shortly after the film came out, Cena, who stars as the beefy villain in F9, posted a puzzling video to the Chinese social-media platform Weibo in which he awkwardly apologizes over and over in stilted Mandarin for “my mistake.” While Cena doesn’t name his offense, he had called Taiwan a country—a characterization the Chinese government adamantly opposes—during a press interview not long before the video. Cena’s apology made him a darling to Chinese nationalists and a punching bag for U.S. media. But the contrition paid off: F9 grossed $136 million in China its first weekend, nearly double its North American opening. Universal never confirmed what precipitated Cena’s video, and Cena hasn’t revisited the subject since. The only point of it, apparently, was to appease Beijing and move on.

    Supplication, then silence: That’s consistent with Hollywood’s larger publicity strategy when the hint of a China-related scandal arises. “The reason why no one wants to talk about this is because there’s no advantages to talking about this,” Tager told me. “They want this issue to go away.”

    According to analysts, studios are in a lose-lose position. Aynne Kokas, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and the author of Hollywood Made in China, explains that if Hollywood were to acknowledge self-censorship, the media blowback in the West would be significant, and China’s risk-averse government might blacklist Hollywood films to minimize attention. At the same time, she told me, studios might draw scrutiny from certain American legislators, harming their reputation at home. But Hollywood won’t stop caving to demands from Beijing, because that’s simply where the industry’s growth is. No other market, especially during the pandemic, comes close. “So in some ways it’s a problem with the American model,” Kokas said. “Can you make a product that is profitable without being in the Chinese market?”

    The answer, it seems, is no. So much of Hollywood’s business today resides on shaky ground. The pandemic’s effects, the streaming wars, the consolidation of studios, the expansion of franchises into theme-park attractions—they’re all unpredictable variables. Yet even as China’s investment in Hollywood has slowed amid a trade war with the U.S., Chinese moviegoers provide a rare constant for studios: a market for guaranteed profit, as long as Beijing approves. Tager suggested to me that perhaps Hollywood studios could band together to rewrite the rules, but few experts offered measures that would fundamentally change an asymmetrical relationship between the world’s largest producer of films and its most lucrative audience. In the end, Schwartz observed, “I don’t think we’ll ever really draw a line in the sand.”


    Shirley Li is a staff writer at The Atlantic​, where she covers culture.
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    Gene Ching
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    Marvel Studios’ Eternals | Final Trailer

    Gene Ching
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