China Bans Avatar Fearing Social Backlash
Chinese authorities have ordered cinemas to stop showing James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar in its 2D version, fearing that its parallels with forced eviction could cause social unrest.
In Avatar, human colonists try to demolish the village of an alien race called the Na'vi in order to obtain a precious resource buried below it on the planet known as Pandora.
The state-run China Film Group has banned the film from the country's 1,628 2D screens from this Saturday (23 January), making way for a homegrown biography of philosopher Confucius, starring Chow-Yun Fat.
It will continue to be shown on 900 3D screens until the end of its planned run on 28 February, yet these 3D screens are few and far between on China's mainland – so the order effectively prevents general distribution of the film.
The film's story, which tells of the Na'vi's battle to protect their land and culture from formidable outsiders, appears to have resonated with commentators – suggesting its parity with Chinese citizens fighting to protect their homes and land from government and property developers.
Commentator Huang Hung wrote in China Daily on Tuesday (19 January): “Somehow, the film struck a chord with Chinese audiences and created nothing less than a social phenomenon.
“Why? All the forced removal of old neighbourhoods in China makes us the only earthlings today who can really feel the pain of the Na'vi,” she said.
“For audiences in other countries, such brutal eviction is something outside their imagining. It could only take place on another planet or in China,” popular blogger Han Han wrote of Avatar.
The issue of forced eviction in China is a pertinent one; millions of Chinese have been uprooted to make way for high rises and government infrastructure projects. The term “Nail House” is a popular term given to homes of dwellers who refuse to leave though they are surrounded by demolished homes – because they resemble nails in wood that cannot be pounded down with a hammer.
The sheer success of Avatar has also embarrassed Chinese filmmakers – it reportedly took about 300 million yuan ($40m) at the box office in its first eight days after its release in China on 4 January. This later release was due to the country's limit on film imports – it shows only 20 foreign films a year, and had already fulfilled its quota in December.
Where there is a will there is a way, however, because even before the film's official release in China, pirated DVDs of Avatar were on sale for about seven yuan ($1) in Beijing's streets and markets – bringing the plight of Pandora, and its connotations with real-life China, to all.