China is currently in a push to build international popularity and respect through “soft power” mechanisms like media and the arts. One prominent medium in this push has been film. But failed attempts like Flowers of War have shown a reluctance to move past black and white nationalistic angles. Chinese films, under the direction of chief censor State Administration of Radio, Film & Television (SARFT), dissect and remove anything that’s vulgar, politically unpalatable, sends the wrong social message or portrays the Chinese people as anything but heroic and exceptional.
Not coincidentally, when you ask someone in China what their favorite movie is, they probably won’t name a Chinese film. In fact, most of the time they’ll name one of two movies: Forrest Gump or Shawshank Redemption. The movies depict military defeat, racism, corruption and perversion of justice – some of the darker aspects of 20th century America. Yet the final products show nuance and complex characters that inspire and win international acclaim. In other words, they’re soft power victories.
But what if the US had had its own SARFT with similar social and political objectives?
I don’t believe Shawshank Redemption could have been made. An innocent man being sent to a prison with officials dabbling in corruption and murder would simply be untenable. However, I do think Forrest Gump could have been made…with some major revisions. So based on leaked censorship instructions and years of watching Chinese movies, here’s hypothetical American SARFT’s verdict on the film:
1. In the beginning it’s revealed that Forrest is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest – former leader of the illegal terrorist “Ku Klux Klan” organization. This is utterly contrary to the theme of the film.
2. The doctor tells Forrest that his back “is as crooked as a politician.” Remove this statement.
3. When bullies throw rocks and chase Forrest there’s no indication that they were caught and punished for their actions.
4. The bullies’ truck has a Confederate flag license plate. This is an illegal secessionist symbol and must be removed.
5. Forrest is denied from entering a normal school because his IQ is too low, which his mother refuses to accept. This distorts reality. America’s education system wouldn’t allow any student to be placed where they don’t belong. Furthermore, Forrest’s mother sleeps with the principal in order to secure Forrest’s admission. This is vulgar and unrealistic.
6. When African-American students enter the University of Alabama, some white students make remarks like “coon” and “nigger.” This gravely harms America’s image and may have negative social effects.
7. Regarding the scene in Jenny’s dormitory where she places Forrest’s hand on her breast, the effect of the length, imagery and sounds of this bed scene are strong, and bring about strong harmful sensual stimulation to people.
8. When Forrest meets President Kennedy he says that he “has to pee.” This is very offensive and disrespectful toward an American leader. Furthermore, Forrest discovers a picture of Marilyn Monroe in Kennedy’s bathroom. This alludes to false rumors and gravely distorts history.
9. When Bubba is describing his family’s history of serving white people, it alludes to slavery. This may gravely hurt the feelings of the American people.
10. “Playboy” is an illegal pornographic publication that shows a naked woman. It must be removed from the film.
11. When Forrest arrives to Vietnam, American soldiers are shown drinking beer and barbequing, not taking their duties seriously. This gravely violates history and harms the image of the American military.
12. Forrest exposes his buttocks to President Johnson. This is disrespectful and absurd.
13. The Washington DC anti-government “peace rally” suggests American involvement in the Vietnam War was unjust. The theme and tone of the rally must be revised so that it doesn’t oppose the government. It also depicts convicted criminal Abbie Hoffman. It must be adjusted so that he’s portrayed in a more negative fashion and not wearing an American flag shirt.
14. The “Black Panther Party” is an illegal organization. Its depiction may stir up animosity among ethnic groups and have negative social consequences.
15. The scene after Forrest meets President Nixon alludes to the “Watergate Scandal.” Remove.
16. Filthy words appear repeatedly in the film and should be deleted.
17. The Jenny character is overly-complex and sends mixed messages. On one hand she appears kind and elicits sympathy, but on the other hand she does illegal drugs and has loose virtues. Good and evil must be clearly distinguished.