In an extremely savvy and strategic business move, Wang Jianlin, the richest man in China, is set to purchase a controlling share in American movie studio Legendary Entertainment. Valued at $3.5 billion, the buyout has been described as “China’s largest cross-border cultural acquisition to date,” and is intended to expand and strength ties between China, the world’s fastest growing movie market, and Hollywood.
Mr. Wang currently owns Dalian Wanda, an international media conglomerate that already has a majority stake in both China’s largest theatre chain and AMC Entertainment, the second largest cineplex in the US. By acquiring Legendary, Mr. Wang will have control not only over movie distributors but also movie content producers, granting him virtually unprecedented leverage to dictate what moviegoers worldwide will view.
The deal is not without its critics. Mr. Wang stated that future Legendary films will avoid running afoul of various national censorship regulations, particularly those in China, which has caused some to be concerned that implementing such a strategy will come at the expense of filmmakers’ artistic freedom. The Chinese government strictly enforces notoriously obstinate censorship rules and has restricted or banned the release of Legendary films in the past. While Legendary is known for producing big-budget films that have global appeal, including Jurassic World, 300, Inception, and the Dark Knight Batman Trilogy, Mr. Wang has already stated that Hollywood films must better cater to Chinese audiences and conform to China’s censorship standards if they want to remain profitable. The question remains though: is enforcing Chinese censorship laws outside China’s geographic borders actually worth sacrificing the American movie industry’s autonomy over its content?
Loren Shokes is an Entertainment and Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current second year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).