“Call Me By Your Name” joins an illustrious list of great films censored in China

The Oscar-winning romance is in great company.
The Oscar-winning romance is in great company.
Image: Sony Pictures Classics
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Here’s an idea: Plan a film festival comprised solely of films that have been banned or removed from Chinese cinemas. The slate would be pretty darn good.

Call Me By Your Name, winner of this year’s Oscar for best adapted screenplay, is the latest such film to be censored in China. The film was abruptly pulled from next month’s Beijing International Film Festival, Reuters reported, after failing to earn approval by regulators.

The news comes less than a week after the Chinese government voted to give control of the country’s film industry to the propaganda wing of the Communist Party.

Based on a novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is a gay coming-of-age romance. The storyline follows a 17-year-old American boy who falls in love with his father’s graduate student while summering at his family’s villa in Italy. It was praised by critics for its writing and acting and garnered four Oscar nominations, including one for best picture.

China, however, doesn’t agree with the hype. Though homosexuality is not illegal in the country, the government has a long history of censoring LGBT stories and the various kinds of media that depict it. Last year, for example, it implemented new rules that explicitly banned homosexual content from appearing in its TV series. Homosexuality is listed under the country’s “pornographic or vulgar content” restriction, along with incest and sexual abuse.

It’s not just homosexuality that China’s propaganda department doesn’t like: The country also has rules against media depictions of drinking, religious extremism, and many types of violence. So the producers of Call Me By Your Name shouldn’t feel too down—getting kicked out of China is something of a badge of honor for American films. Here are just a few great movies that failed to secure a full release:

Films that are banned or censored in China

  • Ghostbusters (an obscure Communist Party rule technically bans movies that ”promote cults or superstition,” including, apparently, ghosts)
  • Deadpool
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Avatar (the highest-grossing film of all time was pulled from thousands of Chinese theaters early in its run; Chinese regulators were reportedly worried that the movie, which is about a militaristic government forcefully removing an alien people from their native homeland, hit too close to home)
  • Ben-Hur
  • The Dark Knight (Warner Bros. elected not to release the film in China, believing it would be too difficult to win approval by regulators)
  • The Departed (Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning gangster drama was barred from China for including a scene that suggests China wanted to buy advanced military technology)
  • Brokeback Mountain
  • Captain Phillips (a leaked email from the 2014 Sony hack revealed that Rory Bruer, the then-president of global distribution at Sony Pictures, didn’t believe China would ever approve of the film as it depicts the US military successfully saving a single US citizen)
  • Kundun
  • Frankenstein

Dozens of other classic films have been released in China only after being edited, including Titanic (Kate Winslet’s bare breasts were removed from one scene) and Mission Impossible III

Despite opting out of many Western hits, China’s film industry grossed $8.6 billion last year, a 13% jump from 2016. If Hollywood studios want a piece of the profits, they’ll have to consider the content of the films they’re distributing. Some films, like the most recent installments of the Transformers franchise, are even tailored specifically for Chinese audiences.

The Beijing International Film Festival has grown bigger in recent years as more and more Hollywood celebrities and executives court this increasingly important market. Recent festivals have been attended by actress Natalie Portman, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy, and Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone. But if the kind of censorship that bars a film like Call Me By Your Name continues, it’s fair to question whether Hollywood bigwigs should support the country’s thriving film business at all.