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Is Hollywood Made in China?

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If you've seen the trailer for Matt Damon's new movie, "The Great Wall," you might have a general idea of what Dr. Aynne Kokas presented on Tuesday afternoon at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.

Dr. Kokas' presentation, based on her book, Hollywood Made in China: What are the Stakes?, was part of the Center for China-U.S. Collaboration's (CCUSC) Jackson/Ho Forum.

Her presentation certainly touched upon the derivative nature of films like "The Great Wall" and issues of cultural stereotyping, but more so, she focused on U.S.-Sino relations within the global film industry. Despite the seemingly silly plot and ludicrous nature of a Caucasian male starring in a movie set in historical China at the Great Wall, Kokas gave the movie some credence, calling it a "microcosm...of the economic and political changes we're seeing in contemporary China."

From 2011-2015, the Asia Pacific region saw explosive growth in box office revenues, growing approximately 30 percent annually and making it the fastest growing market in the country. In 2015, revenues eclipsed all other regions of the world—Asia-Pacific netted $14.1 billion and U.S./Canada netted $11.1 billion. By 2018, Kokas said China is slated to become the world's largest film market in the world. For an audience that's used to seeing American values and culture at the theaters, the next few years could hold big surprises.

"Hollywood needs the Chinese market as an additional external market and this is true for a lot of industries," said Kokas. "But one of the things that I think is important is that frequently we don't think of things like entertainment as products. They are cultural objects or things we do in our off time. But the movement of goods and services and content related to these stories is really an interesting indicator of how the movement of capital is happening between China and the U.S."

Kokas said that major global media conglomerates partnering with businesses in the Chinese film industry are helping advance the interests of Chinese communist party. Kokas presented a quote from Xi Jinping, President of China, in which he states the necessity of producing authentic Chinese stories and becoming a larger presence in the global box office.

"Part of the way this is described is through soft power," she said. "The Chinese government actually has specific language to talk about the growth of Chinese cultural products using the idea of cultural security. In a school of international relations, probably sounds like a relatively absurd concept. We think about nuclear security and arms races, but thinking about culture as a platform through which to wage China's peaceful rise is at the core of a lot of this collaborative investment (between U.S. and Chinese studios)."

Learn more about the Center for China-US Cooperation's Jackson/Ho Forum. For school-wide events, visit the Korbel Events Calendar.