Disney CEO Admits to ‘Difficulty’ in Getting Films Released in China

New ‘Doctor Strange’ movie is likely censored over Epoch Times newspaper box in film
By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
May 12, 2022 Updated: May 12, 2022

Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke on May 11 about the “difficulty” of getting films released in China, after it appeared that the latest “Doctor Strange” movie likely wouldn’t be released in China over the appearance of an Epoch Times newspaper box in the film.

Speaking during an earnings call, Chapek said the situation in China has been “very fluid” and “very complicated” from business and political standpoints.

“We’ll continue to submit our films for release,” he said. “It’s worth noting, I think though, that at the time that we’re having some difficulty in getting our films in China, that ‘Doctor Strange’ did extraordinarily well.”

Bob Chapek
Bob Chapek of Disney talks during the Opening Ceremony of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 at ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla., on May 8, 2016. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images for Invictus)

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” the second installment of the 2016 “Doctor Strange” franchise, was released in the United States on May 6. The movie has thus far enjoyed enormous success at the box office, grossing $213.6 million in the United States for a global haul of $507.8 million through May 10.

In the movie, a yellow newspaper box sits in the background during a fight scene when Doctor Strange takes on a monster called Gargantos on the streets of New York. The box has the Chinese characters 大紀元時報 for the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times.

The revelation hasn’t been a surprise to some moviegoers, since one of the movie trailers had already shown frames of the newspaper box during the same fight scene. As a result, there has long been speculation that Disney wouldn’t be able to secure a China release for the movie, considering that China’s hawkish state-run media Global Times denounced Marvel for its decision in a May 1 opinion article.

Chris Fenton, a long-time Hollywood executive and film producer, had previously told The Epoch Times that he believes the new Marvel movie would face censorship in China.

“This recent development of The Epoch Times being seen as one of the major stars in the movie is definitely throwing a wrench in any sort of shot that they did have of getting into that market,” Fenton said.

Chapek expressed optimism that Disney will do well financially despite setbacks in the Chinese market.

“We’re pretty confident that even without China, if it were to be that we continue to have difficulties in getting titles in there, that it doesn’t really preclude our success given the relatively lower take rate that we get on the box office in China than we do across the rest of the world,” he said.

The Chinese regime has banned both the English- and Chinese-language websites of The Epoch Times out of fear that the paper’s uncensored coverage of current affairs in China could undermine the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. The Epoch Times regularly reports on political infighting within the party, the regime’s human rights violations against ethnic minorities and religious groups, and most recently, the Chinese people’s anger and frustration with the regime’s draconian COVID-19 policies.

One recent incident of the communist regime’s direct criticism of The Epoch Times happened on Jan. 5, 2021, when the U.S. State Department published an interview between then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders.”

A day later, Hua Chunying, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, slandered The Epoch Times as an “evil” media organization during a daily briefing. She also attacked Pompeo for having promoted “political virus and political lies.”

In recent years, several of the biggest Marvel movies didn’t open in China, including “Eternals,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and “Black Widow.”

The 2016 “Doctor Strange” movie did open in China. It grossed a total of $677 million at the box office around the world, with $109 million from China. 

Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.