Cynthia Wisehart on Made in China

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As we go to press, the mayor of Los Angeles, where I live, hosted a big event to celebrate the selling-out of Hollywood to China. Specifically to the Dalian Wanda Group. That’s not how he positioned it, of course. Those of you who work in theme parks may already know Wanda—owned by Wang Jianlin, reportedly the richest man in China and extensively partnered to the Chinese government. Wanda has five theme park properties in China and another seven under construction. Wang famously said this spring, as Shanghai Disney was opening that “The frenzy of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the era of blindly following them have passed.” Since then he has clarified that he respects Disney very much. And that “competition is unavoidable”. Starting in 2012 the company went on what The New York Times characterized as an $8 billion “entertainment spending spree,” buying all the AMC and Carmike cinema chains, as well as Odeon and UCI in Europe and Hoyts in Australia. That’s over 11,000 screens worldwide. Wanda also bought two production companies, Legendary Entertainment and Dick Clark Productions, and a movie ticketing and marketing company. Wang was in LA appearing with Garcetti to market the last piece of the movie-making ecosystem—a massive 408-acre Qingdao Movie Metropolis, the home of Wanda Studios, still under construction. Scheduled to fully open in 2018, it will feature 30 advanced soundstages, including the world’s largest at over 107,000 square feet; an underwater stage; and a 221-acre back lot. The master plan calls for hospitals, schools, yacht club, shopping etc. with the goal of making Qingdao irresistible. In the meantime, money will have to do as incentive. Wang, who Garcetti called “a great friend to Los Angeles,” cut to the chase, announcing 40% rebates to production companies who made their movies at Qingdao, including special rebates for moviemakers who incorporated sufficient Chinese elements to be considered Chinese co-productions by the government panel that will evaluate all the rebate applications. The company also plans a $1.2 billion headquarters in Beverly Hills—probably what Garcetti means when he says “friend”. Naturally all this has piqued the interest of some politicians who don’t see all this as favorably as he does. But it’s all so little so late. Chinese companies in collaboration with the Chinese government have freely and shrewdly bought as much as they can worldwide. Unlike in China, where a million labyrinthine and ever-changing rules confront expatriate companies, America has nothing like the obstacles to foreign business and ownership. The forces of globalization and America’s position in a globalizing world are way too complex for my tiny mind. But as a journalist, I can only say, things must not go unexamined. We spend a lot of time worrying about things that don’t matter and blithely submitting to trends that may or may not be in our self-interest. It is important to bring real consciousness, not xenophobia or hysteria, to the very important topic of geopolitical economics and what is in America’s interest.

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