This time it wasn’t fear of a cyber attack like the one it suffered when the Sony comedy “The Interview” offended North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
The issue, in a word, was money.
Sony was afraid the picture would be frozen out of the huge Chinese market, potentially shrinking the international box office by tens of millions of dollars.
The revelations were contained in the batch of Sony internal emails leaked last year in the North Korean hack. They show a widespread effort to change the scripts of several pictures to make sure China would not ban them, according to Reuters.
Shockingly, Sony execs knew the changes would be sharply criticized by the U.S. media. So they tried to cover up Chinese edits to the 2013 reboot of “Robocop.”
“Recommendation is to change all versions as if we only change the China version, we set ourselves up for the press to call us out for this when bloggers invariably compare the versions and realize we changed the China setting just to pacify that market,” wrote Steven O’Dell, then president of Sony Pictures Releasing International.
Chinese censors are known to ban films for merely portraying the country or its government in a bad light.
Other scenes culled from “Pixels” included a reference to China as a possible instigator of an attack and a reference to a “Communist-conspiracy brother.” That would be close ally North Korea.
Li Chow, a lobbyist for Sony Pictures in China suggested the edits in one of the internal emails. “It will not benefit the China release at all. I would then, recommend not to do it,” he wrote to top Sony honchos.
In a similar incident, Steve Bruno, then the Sony exec responsible for international releases, recommended changing the “Robocop” script.
He wanted deleted a reference to China as a source for international weapons and suggested substituting Vietnam or Cambodia. The change, ultimately, was not made, according to Reuters.
Ironically, the Chinese government did not communicated any threats or warnings. The edits were solely an exercise in self-censorship by Sony executives, who were trying to anticipate the Communist government’s reaction.
China is the world’s second largest market for movies. The box office gross last year topped $4.8 billion for the first time, a one-third increase over the previous year.
It’s also in the midst of a widespread civil liberties crackdown by Communist Party President Xi Jinping.
Sony declined to comment on the hacked emails. But it isn’t alone tailoring movies for the Chinese market.
Marvel Studios reportedly made changes to “Iron Man 3” to make it more palatable to the Chinese. as well.
The moves included increasing screentime for a popular Chinese actress and using a Chinese actor to portray a sympathetic character. Marvel, however, only changed the international version of the movie, according to the news service.
“Pixels” hits theaters this weekend.
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