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Essay: Comparative analysis of film industry as a mass medium in the United States and China

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Film is a form of entertainment that enacts a story by sound and a sequence of images giving the illusion of continuous movement (Word Web, 2013). Film is also known as motion picture or movie.

In 1891, Kinetoscope, the first movie machine is invented by Thomas Alva Edison. In 1985, Louis and Auguste Lumier demonstrated the camera-projector called the cinematographe in Paris, France (Croteau, 2012). Antoine Lumiere started to exhibit projected films before the paying public, beginning the general conversion of the medium to projection (Cook, 1990). Edwin S. Porter from America produced an eight minute The Great Train Robbery (1903) which launched the movies as mass entertainment.

Film industry is an important mass medium for a country and the whole world. For years, US cinema which is also called as Hollywood film has the world top box office. Hollywood’s box office reached $10.8bn while China took over Japan became the world second highest box office country, $2.7 in 2013 (Filmcontact, 2013). According to the report of Ernst & Young, they claimed that China will soon surpass the Hollywood box office by year 2020 (The Guardian, 2012). United States and China are the world two biggest powerful countries. Their film industries mass mediums are moving forward with the fastest pace in the world. This proposal is doing a comparative analysis for their film industries.

Brief history

Hollywood is one of the world most recognized cinemas. The film industry history is separated into four main periods which are the silent film era, classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and the contemporary period (Bordwell, 2008). During the time of First World War (1914-1918), the European powers were preoccupied with post-war reconstruction. Then, US cinema started to produce film massively and filled the shortage of film supplies. Hollywood films constituted over 75% of the market at that time (ohio-state.edu, undated). Since the early 20th century, US film industry has been developed consistently and successfully.

The United States practices constitutional republic government whereby freedom of expression is utilized for the growth of US film industry. Compared to China, the US Constitutional Law protects the Freedom of Expression which gives a lot freedoms for their media and the people to express, to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds without having fear of government punishment (iipdigital.usembassy.gov, 2013)

China’s film industry is considered as the biggest cinema among all the Chinese language cinemas such as the Cinema of Hong Kong and Cinema of Taiwan since it produced the most movies among three and ranked as world 2nd highest box office in 2013. The major language for China’s film is mandarin. Due to the political condition, China’s media outlets used to be state-owned and state-run. The communist government has a very long tight rule on them. For the film industry, State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television and the Central Publicity Department are the two main regulatory tools for restriction by the authorities Communist Party of China to control the China’s cinema operation (XiChen, 2007).

The Ownerships and Controls

From the late 1920s to the mid-1940s, the film industry of the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood is operated under the studio system. The entire film making process from production to distribution and exhibition is controlled by certain companies which were the eight studios. Then five were having integrated conglomerates which were the 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures and Leos’s Incorporated/MGM. The Universal pictures, Columbia Pictures and United Artists were the other three that were considered as the major studios although considerably smaller theater chains. The production was then separated from distribution and exhibition when the set up was challenged in the Supreme Court under anti thrust laws in 1948 (Said, 2013). Until today, the term studio system is still being used. The top six which are considered as the major studios are Viacom (Paramount Picture), News Corporation (20th Century Fox), Comcast (Universal Pictures), The Walt Disney Company (Walt Disney Pictures), Time Warner (Warner Bros Picture) and Sony (Sony Pictures Entertainment

Prior to 1984, the film industry in China was monopolized by the government. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) paid for all cost such as expenditure in production and distribution, exhibition maintenance and salaries. Film Bureau that worked under the Minister of Culture attributed an annual production target to each film studio to achieve the projects accordingly. China Film Distribution and Exhibition bought products from the studios at a fixed price and passed to lower level of distributer from lower level of city, district or country. China’s film industry was ideologically influenced by the CCP’s dogma (Chu, 2002). Besides, the Film Bureau followed CCP’s guideline to form policies that had involved all process of filmmaking, from the script development, production to anesthetic values and technical competence (Chu, 2002).

‘I don’t want to make films any more. Half of our financial investments cannot be returned. Our job is to make films, and yet our major source of income is not from films.’

(Managing director Zhang Zhaotong, Fujian Film studio, 27 December 2000)

Other than the domestic cinema, foreign movies were restricted by import quota to protect domestic cinema economically and preserving national film identity for China (Jaffe, 2011)

Distribution and Segmentation

Hollywood film studios are privately owned by 6 major corporations. Beside good story contents form different types of genres, star system remains powerful as an effective tool to attract audiences and hit the highest box office in Hollywood (Croteau, 2012).Early silent-film stars like Charlie Chaplin until the early of 2010, Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman who are graded as the highest Q (quotient) Scores performers. They are the stars that are used to create highest popularity and profitable hits in Hollywood.
During the Maoist period, Chinese films were produced and used as tool of mass education and barely prioritize the profit. After Deng Xiaoping step up as the Chairman of the Central Advisory Commission of the Communist Party, the open-door policy and economic reforms brought some changes during the early of 1980s leading China film industry with a serious financial crisis causing bankruptcy of six film studios. 1n 1992, Ministry of Radio, Film and Television (MRFT, Now SARFT) pushed the film market by using state monopoly system. Studios were encouraged to sell their products individually to distribution agencies at province or city level. After the withdrawal of financial support from government, film genres increased massively (Donald, 2002).

‘if we cannot solve the problem of film being led by profit, then we will not be able to regard film’s social impacts as our first priority. The result will
definitely be to reduce the educational function of film. (Lin, 1993)

In 1990s, film distribution agencies started to be more independently. In 1993, the government finally allowed the China Film Corporation to import ten revenue-sharing foreign films every year. In August 2000, one of the state-owned film distribution company (Xian Film Corporation) was transformed into shareholding companies (Donald, 2002).

National regulatory structure

In US, film industry is regulated by industry self-regulation rating system rather than formal government participation (Croteau, 2012). Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a trade organization which established a rating system in 1968 and now there are five categories which are G, PG, PG13, R and NC-17. The rating system was designed to prevent the making or release of any film the MPAA conceived indecent such as nudity and violence. It provides audiences an idea of the movie and aid with parents to decide whether a film is suitable for their children (Wheatmore, 1995). Since 1934, no movie is allowed to be distributed without acquiring certificate from MPAA. According to entertainmentlaw.uslegal.com, MPAA was authorized to fine theatres in US that screen any film without their certificate was released. MPAA also has the right to demand script change.
Primarily, regulations in the US film industry revolved mainly around racial issues. Subject or stories that might cause argument or disturb of the social balance were avoided to be appeared in films. (entertainmentlaw.uslegal.com, undated)

In US, freedom of speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment in the United States Constitution excluding obscenity. Supreme Court defined obscenity in order to implement censorship in the case of Roth v. United States, 1957. Obscenity is measured by few criteria. The dominant theme of the work must appeals to be lustful, depicted or described sexual conduct in patently offensive way and lacked of serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. However, the standards to determine obscenity are different from state to state in US (entertainmentlaw.uslegal.com.undated)
In China, the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television (MRFT) regulated television under the influence of inter-governmental politic until the late 1990s then was replaced by State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. The replacement has extended the television regulations and focus on CCP’s nation building preoccupation by extending forbiddance on threatening national integrity, sovereignty and honor, peace, prosperity and interest (Donald, 2012).
Based on in.china-embassy.org, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) appoints China’s film industry with direct supervision of the State Council. Unlike US, there is no rating system in China. SARFT censorship board determines the content and message of films (domestic and imported films) to ensure them are suitable for the audience of whole country (McCutchan, 2013). The board has approximately 40 members including government officials, academics, filmmakers and representatives from interest groups such as the Communist Youth League (Cieply & Barnes, 2013). A foreign film’s script or a finished film has to be submitted to the censorship board to apply for quota slot. SARFT will decide whether to give quota slot. If the film is awarded with a quota slot, SARFT will then specify any edits to make the film eligible for release. Then SARFT will review again the finished product to approve for the cinematic release (McCutchan, 2013).
Socio-Economic Origins & Functions of Film
According to the A Brief History of Chinese film, China film industry has developed crime stories film which often adapted from the true stories during the early 1920s. For instance, Yan Rui Sheng (1921) was a crime film that based on a famous Shanghai murder case in 1920. For the late 1920s, martial art genre films had dominated the Chinese cinema due to the great popularity of the publishing of martial arts novels and comic books and a response to tighten censorship from the Kuo Ming Tang government after the 1927 purge of Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai. Since 1950, films are used as the propaganda tool for the China Chinese Party’s one-party state (BaoYing, undated). Films are also used to cultivate nationalism among the people. Cinematic nationalism was used to spread and continue the myth of perfect national unity (Hu 2003). Today, China film is commercialized but still very particular in safeguarding national culture and values by resisting Westernization (Teo, 2009).

Hollywood’s films produced during war time were emphasizing patriotism. After World War II, the film industry changed. Film Noir was introduced as a new genre that depicted a world of threatening darkness and ambiguities such as obsession, corruption, and inevitably murder. Besides, film played an important role to reduce racism (Mintz, undated). Gentleman’s Agreement was one of the films in US that depicted anti-Semitism in the early 40s. During 50s and 60s, there were more US films which were combatting discrimination and helping the authorization to gain positive image (Kenji, undated). Now, US film industry has played important role in cultivating culture and providing entertainment based on consumer values.

Film developed slowly from a carnival novelty to one of the most important tools of mass communication and entertainments nowadays. It creates a significant impact on the art, technology, society and the politics.
China film industry is growing rapidly in the film market of the world. But, rating system is urged to be introduced in China by the professionals. According to a survey of more than 6000 Chinese moviegoers carried by Beijing-based data firm EntGroup, although there is no film rating system in China currently, 97.4 percent of moviegoers would support or accept one (Cunningham, 2013). Based on BBC, award-winning Chinese director Xie Fei has accused that China’s censorship is ‘killing’ art. He urged to move censorship system to a rating system that allows for a self-governed and self-disciplined film industry. (bbc.uk.com, 2013)

‘Our current review system is not the rule by law, but the rule by man, something that
we wanted to end a long time ago,’
(Xie 2012)
Hollywood film industry is a world leading film industry for now. But it has a very concentrated media ownership which is good to produce film with bigger budgets while the same time it is potentially being bias since the ownership by major corporations of vast portfolios of mass media gives audience reason to believe that a whole range of ideas and images. For instance, images critical of gridlock in the federal government are frequent, images critical of capitalism as an economic system are virtually nonexistent (Croteau, 2012).

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