Journalism is widely noted to play a crucial role in society, as it forms the basis of public opinions and discussions, and film journalism is noted to influence its audiences. Films from China can provide a Western audience with new cultural insight, which is a crucial basis for improving international relations.
The existing literature (notably reports by Griffiths and Peng) demonstrates that Western journalism neglects Chinese cultural news and is often biased against China, though there has been no previous research into film journalism in particular. I focused on the ten Chinese productions that performed the best at the mainland Chinese box office between the years 2012 to 2021, and the coverage of them in the following five British news outlets: The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Times and the BBC website. Over the ten year period only 84 full articles were written about the all films in question, and there were 436 mentions of the films in all the sources. The Guardian had the highest number of full articles and mentions combined. The Financial Times only had six full articles, and the BBC had the lowest number of combined articles. The most discussed film was The Great Wall (2015), an American and Chinese co-production. 27 films received no coverage whatsoever. 18 of the 84 full articles (that is 21.4%) directly mentioned propaganda, censorship or communism demonstrating the unfair political slant of many of the articles. Other articles demonstrated a dismissive and disrespectful tone. That being said, there was also evidence of some journalists genuinely engaging with Chinese films.
Key findings include the followings:
- Films tend only to receive journalistic coverage if they are released in the UK. However, release in the UK does not guarantee journalistic coverage.
- 2020 produced the lowest number of articles: only three full articles and six mentions.
- The Guardian had the most articles with 44 full articles and 233 mentions.
- The BBC had 28 full articles and 16 mentions
- Although The Financial Times had a high number of mentions, it has the lowest number of full articles, only six.
- Only 29 of the total 84 full articles were film reviews.
- The two years with the most articles were 2015 with 11 full articles and 102 mentions, and 2016 with 31 full articles and 80 mentions.
- The Great Wall (2016), with 21 full articles dedicated to it, and 29 mentions in other articles, was the most discussed film. The second most discussed film was Lost in Thailand (2012)
- 27 out of the overall 99 films were not discussed or mentioned at all.
- Chinese films are often treated ignorantly and dismissively, thus many articles do not provide a genuine review or artistic assessment of the film
- Chinese films are treated with a political bias. 18 of the 84 full articles (that is 21.4%) directly mentioned propaganda, censorship or communism, and many others made reference to subjects.
- Despite the negatives, some articles did feature genuine and respectful criticism and recognised the difficulties that Chinese films confront in the Western market. Some articles demonstrated that it is possible to discuss a film and its political context without undermining the film’s value.
This report was completed during my period as a member of the UK-China Film Collab’s (UCFC) Future Talent Programme 2021-2022, my research originally focuses on mainland Chinese film. However, the results of this research have also led me to question British journalism more widely.
The report makes several suggestions on the ways that journalism covering Chinese film can be improved; the abundance of streaming services and film festivals should be made use of, and journalists should make an effort to move away from the political or economic emphasis and instead discuss films for the creative products that they are.