Why would atheist China ban Paramount’s ‘Noah’ amid religious freedom fears?

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Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe stars alongside Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins in “Noah.” – Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

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Insiders say China has joined several Muslim-majority countries in banning the film ‘Noah’ for religious reasons. But China’s ruling party is officially atheist. What gives?

  • Larry

    The commercial concerns seem to be the most plausible.

    China keeps a strict quota on Hollywood films it imports. Noah’s box office was mediocre. Not a flop, but not a hit either. Given the choice between Noah and Godzilla, which would you want to import in order to make some money?

  • Brian Pellot

    Hi Larry,

    I also link to this LA Times piece above. The Hollywood Reporter piece says: “The movie was due to screen mid-May and was being imported on a flat-fee basis, which means that it did not come under the quota of 34 overseas movies allowed into China on a revenue-share basis.” I don’t know much about the quota system, but this is something to consider in light of your comment. Thanks!

  • Larry

    Revenue sharing means the distributors would get a cut from the gross box office receipts. So naturally the tendency will be towards popular blockbusters.

    A bible based film in a country where the culture doesn’t have much of a baseline familiarity with, is a tough sell. Not so much an atheist thing as much as being a Buddhist/Confucianist/Taoist culture. Although it is being released in Japan, its doubtful it will be a major blockbuster there just due to lack of knowledge of the subject. Very few Biblical films work well with an audience which is new to the material.

  • Gary

    Well, knowing China and knowing that Godzilla is actually a cultural import from Japan, no matter what Hollywood does to it, it wouldn’t surprise me if Godzilla gets banned, too.

  • Jon Snow

    Without spoilers (***OK, or maybe lightly a spoiler if you haven’t seen the film****) – There’s a line in the film said by the villain that suggests that human power – when men work together – is unstoppable (then they’re stopped by God’s flood). A theme of the film is man’s push for his own glory versus God’s intention with the imago dei.

    I wondered if this/these might appear subversive to the communist agenda separate from it simply being labeled as a “religious” film (or maybe that is the religious element that could offend a communist government). Certainly the Bible’s “Tower of Babel” story is focused on those very themes I mentioned, and I’ve even wondered if China’s state-sanctioned abridged Bible kept or modified that story (I’m only imagining – I don’t know how much or even whether they’ve abridged it).

  • Shielding C

    You misread – Noah is being imported on a flat-fee basis, it is NOT one of the 34 revenue-share imports.

  • Larry

    My bad. I stand corrected.

    Buy my point of a Biblical film probably not finding an audience with a culture without a baseline familiarity with the subject still stands.

    Unless Noah was able to really work the disaster flick/fantasy elements, it is a tough sell in China. Its a tough sell in East Asia in general outside of Korea and Taiwan(which have significant Christian populations).

  • Larry

    One has to bear in mind you are talking about a culture which is not going to be overly familiar with Genesis at all beyond what would show up in their popular culture. Christians make up a miniscule section of the population. (less than 3%).

    In Asia it is largely reference Western Religious stuff if it looks cool on screen (the same way Eastern religions are treated by Hollywood)

  • Larry

    Who doesn’t like giant monsters?

    Given the kefluffle with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands (which is about one unkind word away from a naval engagement), I can definitely see some nationalistic basis for a ban.

    Considering China is a country which will shoot you or roll a tank over you if you consider free expression and democracy, somehow they still manage to get mass protests against Japan. Go figure.