Just when Quentin Tarantino thought he finally had it made with his first officially sanctioned Chinese movie release, authorities abruptly yanked his film “Django Unchained” from theaters on Thursday, with some cinemagoers reporting the slavery-revenge drama was cut off after only one minute of screen time.
“We were only told that it was due to some technology problems and were told to cancel it,” an official at a Shanghai movie theater told Reuters. “They didn’t tell us when the film would be shown again.”
It’s not like China’s notoriously prickly movie watchdogs didn’t get a chance to vet ‘Django Unchained,” a bloody slavery revenge film that takes place in the antebellum southern United States. The director already re-edited the movie to tone down the violence, including making the copious fake blood a darker color, with less splatter.
In many ways the Tarantino movie was a perfect fit with Beijing’s political mindset. As Quartz explained last month, the movie’s depiction of a dark period in American history fits a historical narrative favored by China’s government. In Chinese history classes, America’s seizure of land from Native Americans and the US Civil War are used to show students that every country fights for its territorial integrity.
So what caused the abrupt cancellation of the screenings? Speculation on Chinese blogs centered on a nude scene in the movie in which viewers can clearly discern the genitals of the movie’s titular star, Jamie Foxx, as he is threatened with castration. The censors’ problem with Django Unchained may have been Django, undressed.
“I recall last year the nudity from the 3D version of Titanic was deleted, and that CCTV once covered the genitals of the nude statue of [Michelangelo's] David with a digital mosaic,” the Chinese columnist and popular blogger Lian Peng (@连鹏) said on Sina Weibo. “If we really think nudity affects young peoples’ mental and physical health, we should introduce a proper classification system [for nudity] instead of blindly and arbitrarily censoring.”
“We regret that Django Unchained has been removed from theaters and are working with the Chinese authorities to determine whether the film can be rescheduled,” a Sony Pictures spokesman told Deadline Hollywood. It may not be much consolation to Sony or Tarantino, but Chinese bootleg DVDs of the film are widely available, in all of its glory.
Additional reporting by Naomi Rovnick.