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Maverick’ for defying Chinese censors

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Tom Cruise on the set of “Top Gun.”

Paramount Pictures | Sunset Boulevard | Corbis | Getty Images

After 36 years, the sequel to the Tom Cruise movie classic “Top Gun” is a critical and industrial success, earning $248 million at the worldwide box office on its opening weekend. In Taiwan, it is also being celebrated for another excuse: not pandering to China

In 2019, the trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick” showed Cruise’s character, U.S. Navy pilot Pete Mitchell, in the identical bomber jacket he wore in the unique film. But two of its flag patches — representing Japan and the Republic of China, the official name for Taiwan — appeared to have been replaced by other emblems.

The move was criticized on the time as an act of self-censorship to please China’s censors. Beijing sees Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy of 24 million people, as an inalienable a part of its territory and lashes out at any reference to it as a sovereign nation.  

After 36 years, the sequel to the Tom Cruise movie classic “Top Gun” is a critical and industrial success, earning $248 million at the worldwide box office on its opening weekend. In Taiwan, it is also being celebrated for another excuse: not pandering to China

In 2019, the trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick” showed Cruise’s character, U.S. Navy pilot Pete Mitchell, in the identical bomber jacket he wore in the unique film. But two of its flag patches — representing Japan and the Republic of China, the official name for Taiwan — appeared to have been replaced by other emblems.

The move was criticized on the time as an act of self-censorship to please China’s censors. Beijing sees Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy of 24 million people, as an inalienable a part of its territory and lashes out at any reference to it as a sovereign nation.  

Hollywood often abides by Beijing’s sensitivities to achieve access to and reap profits from the lucrative Chinese market. Last 12 months, “Fast & Furious” actor John Cena apologized profusely in Mandarin to his Chinese fans for calling Taiwan a rustic during a publicity tour for the most recent film within the franchise.

Experts say the inclusion of the Taiwanese flag in “Top Gun: Maverick” may suggest a shift in Hollywood away from its culture of deference to China’s red lines.  

“There have been several recent instances of big-budget U.S. movies not moving into the Chinese market. Studios are aware of this and are making business decisions,” said Aynne Kokas, an associate professor of media studies on the University of Virginia and creator of “Hollywood Made in China.”

Hollywood blockbusters including the Marvel movies “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” have been kept from Chinese screens after directors or actors involved within the movies made comments critical of China.

The Chinese tech giant Tencent had said in 2019 that it was investing within the “Top Gun” sequel; it later pulled out over concerns that its support for a movie with strong pro-U.S. military themes would anger officials within the ruling Communist Party, The Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing people aware of the financing.

NBC News has requested comment from Paramount Pictures in addition to Tencent offices in China, where it was a public holiday on Friday, and Los Angeles.

With “Top Gun: Maverick” not expected to be released in mainland China, filmmakers had greater flexibility in decision-making, Kokas said. 

“Particularly for a movie like ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ a tribute to the U.S. military released in time for the Memorial Day holiday within the U.S., there may be a transparent incentive to play to the film’s most reliable audience constituencies,” she said, “and it appears to have paid off financially.”

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