Maverick returns in the upcoming sequel to Top Gun, but he’s a lot less mavericky in one sense. Adam Kredo provided this amusing leftover from an already heady week, pointing out the wisdom of the old adage — he who pays the piper calls the tune. And when a major firm from China bankrolls your patriotic look at the American military, well, what follows is pretty predictable.
First Mark McKinnon noticed the changes to Maverick’s wardrobe in the trailer:
There’s a new Top Gun movie coming out. And Maverick is wearing the same leather jacket – only this time it’s Communist Party of China-approved, so the Japanese and Taiwanese flag patches are gone (screenshot on right is from the new trailer)… pic.twitter.com/gUxFNFNUKX
— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) July 19, 2019
Why would the CCP have any input into Maverick’s jacket? It turns out that China’s Tencent Pictures put up a lot of the cash for Top Gun 2. They also own part of the production company Skydance that is producing the film, but it’s not just the ownership issue that might be driving these changes, notes The Hollywood Reporter:
Suspicions have been heightened by the fact that Tencent Pictures, the film division of Chinese internet giant Tencent, is a co-financier of the new Top Gun movie. Tencent also is a part-owner of David Ellison’s Skydance, which is co-producing the film with Paramount.
But even without the direct involvement of Chinese investors, Hollywood studios have for years avoided storylines, characters or even visual elements that could conceivably cause offense to either Beijing authorities or nationalistic segments of the Chinese audience. …
For the better part of a decade, U.S. studios have been careful to portray China in an unfailingly positive, or neutral, light. Film projects casting a critical eye on the China of the past or present — Seven Years in Tibet, for example, or Richard Gere’s Red Corner, which criticized China’s legal system — haven’t gotten made since the 1990s. Instead, China has tended to be portrayed — if at all — as a thoroughly stabilizing and technologically advanced partner, as in the finale of Ridley Scott’s The Martian or Roland Emmerich’s 2012.
Why? It’s still about the dollars. Hollywood needs China’s theater screens and billion-person population to ensure profitability, and the Chinese government won’t allow films that paint China in a bad light to be shown. That’s not a big deal when producing low-budget art films, but Hollywood studios have stopped producing those in favor of big-budget comic-book action films.
Top Gun 2 is hardly the most egregious example of Chinese influence on a film. In 2012’s Red Dawn remake, the country invading the US was changed from China to North Korea in post-production. Its original studio, MGM, was going through a bankruptcy and they needed to gain access to China’s theaters in order to maximize profit off the film. No one explained how a starving nation of around 25 million people could invade a wealthy nation of 300 million, an issue that didn’t exist when the antagonist was China and its one-billion-plus invasion potential.
Anyway, money talks, and patriotism walks — in Hollywood, anyway. Ted Cruz, take it away:
The Paramount film studio’s recent decision to censor portions of its remake of the classic film Top Gun to appease Chinese Communist Party propaganda rules is the clearest sign to date that “Hollywood is afraid to stand up for free speech,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) told the Washington Free Beacon. …
“Top Gun is an American classic, and it’s incredibly disappointing to see Hollywood elites appease the Chinese Communist Party,” Cruz told the Free Beacon. “The Party uses China’s economy to silence dissent against its brutal repression and to erode the sovereignty of American allies like Taiwan. Hollywood is afraid to stand up for free speech and is enabling the Party’s campaign against Taiwan.”
A senior GOP congressional official working on the matter said many lawmakers are beginning to pay attention to Hollywood’s willingness to censor itself.
“Concern about China has been heating up, but so far it’s been a slow burn,” said the source, who would only speak on background about ongoing matters. “It’s going to take something people can understand to shake lawmakers awake. This Top Gun controversy isn’t a military attack or anything like that, but it’s so brazen and outrageous that maybe a few more people will pay attention. The current situation, where China slowly gets Americans to self-censor, just isn’t sustainable.”
It’s not self-censorship as much as it is self-delusion. Maybe the producers thought no one would notice, but that’s rather foolish. They’re remaking Top Gun because Maverick is an icon of sorts, with producers hoping to draw people on that very basis. You don’t mess with an icon unless you’re looking to demolish it, which wouldn’t be a very Top Gun-y thing to do.
Or maybe it won’t make that much difference. TMZ caught up with Lindsey Graham a few days ago and asked him about the issue. “That kind of sucks,” Graham says, but will he watch the film? “Oh, totally!” Of course he will, and so will millions of Americans who won’t bat an eye at the flight-jacket controversy. And even if Top Gun 2 ends up “kinda sucking,” it won’t be the flight jacket’s fault but instead Hollywood’s utter failure to imagine new stories and new characters, besides manipulating the creative process to pander to totalitarian regimes to turn a profit.