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How Variety Covers for Woke Hollywood’s China Problem

News outlets like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and do more than cover the entertainment industry.

They also cover up some of said industry’s flaws. That’s often the case when it comes to politics. Liberal stars routinely behave badly off-screen, sharing vile comments on social media and taking stances that would disgust most potential patrons.

Much of that gets swept under the proverbial rug. Ellen Barkin’s vile Tweets are just one glaring example. How many people who don’t read this site know what she’s been Tweeting?

The august Hollywood press outlets didn’t think Barkin’s veiled death threat against a sitting president deserved your attention, even at a time when huge stars lose their livelihoods for a single, distasteful tweet.

Nothing to see here. Move along. And it’s happening again.

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That attitude helps explain why liberal Hollywood’s silence on human rights abuses in China go mostly unreported. It’s not always fair to criticize someone for failing to speak out on an issue. You can’t blame an activist, for example, for not critiquing every single problem within his or her niche.

There’s only so much time in a day, and even the most supportive souls can’t track each societal ill.

Even with that framing it’s impossible to miss how Hollywood stars look the other way when it comes to China. The film industry needs Chinese movie goers to support their product. Films that flop stateside, like the recent “Tomb Raider” reboot, do so well overseas they keep their franchises alive.

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The fickle Chinese market place is growing, booming even. Hollywood cannot leave all that cash behind. As a result, the stars stay deathly silent on what transpires in that country.

So while celebrities threaten to boycott U.S. states for their strict abortion laws they say nothing about China clamping down on free speech, imprisoning people for their religious beliefs or other draconian measures.

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It’s why Variety reports on actors weighing in on the current Hong Kong protests with such care. The story’s headline is awkward, for starters:

As Hong Kong Protests Continue, Stars Get Caught Up in the Vitriol

Sounds like Alyssa Milano, Debra Messing and Rob Reiner are taking a firm stand on the matter, right? 

Not even close.

The article details how a select, and brave, group of Asian actors are weighing in on the Hong Kong protests. Others, though, are towing the Chinese line.

One popular singer-actress blacklisted by Beijing has live-streamed and live-tweeted herself attending protests and being tear-gassed. Another veteran actor took part in a pro-police rally – and promptly landed a release date in mainland China for his directorial debut film. Worldwide star Jackie Chan has thrown his lot in with the Beijing regime, putting out a video interview in which he expressed his patriotism in terms that echo mainland propaganda.

To Variety’s credit, the author shares what’s at stake with the protests as well as China’s thuggish response.

The protests – the biggest in Hong Kong’s history – have raged since early June, at their peak drawing nearly 2 million out of the territory’s 7.4 million people to the streets, despite the crippling summer heat. The movement was sparked by widespread opposition to a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Police have responded with increasing brutality, beating unarmed protesters with batons and firing tear gas directly at crowds.

The most prominent American actor to speak out against China in recent years? Oscar nominee Richard Gere. His punishment? He’s banished to indie film properties.

He’s paying the price for his actions.

Other stars aren’t paying a plug nickel. They’re staying silent, refusing to weigh in on the side of democracy. Have they been told by their agents and film studios to stay mum?

Impossible to say.

One thing’s clear. Their lack of action, contrasted with their vigor in protesting every other cause stateside, deserves at least a paragraph in Variety.

Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

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