Chinese tycoon Wang Jianlin is wrapping up his latest Hollywood acquisition while Washington recently made a decision to review foreign investment that was inspired by his aggressive moves.
Wang, who owns Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese real estate and entertainment conglomerate, visited California over the weekend to finalise the deal to buy Dick Clark Productions for about $1 billion, according to Variety. The Dick Clark production company produces shows including the American Music Awards and “So You Think You Can Dance?”
Acquiring DCP is the latest move to fulfil Wang’s outspoken desire to use entertainment to “promote Chinese culture abroad” (the Chinese billionaire already owns AMC Theatres and Legendary Entertainment), which also includes setting a giant lure for big-name Hollywood companions — including Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox — to move production to Wanda’s studio complex in Qingdao, China, according to the New York Times.
The massive incentive program allows non-Chinese production companies to cooperate with Wanda, and
produce films classified by the Chinese government as coproductions that are free of quota limits — just 34 non-Chinese films are able to enter the world’s second-largest movie market, which will soon surpass US and reach the top, according to The Hollywood Reporter and The Financial Times.
But Wang’s ambition has attracted the attention of the federal government, given Wanda’s close economic ties to relatives of top-tier Chinese Communist leaders.
In a letter dated September 30, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) accepted a request from 16 members of Congress to review the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and to determine whether the efforts of the committee “have kept pace with the growing scope of foreign acquisitions in important economic sectors in the United States.”
The request led by Rep. Robert Pittenger, a North Carolina Republican, particularly pointed out lawmakers’ concerns over Wanda’s aggressive purchase of Hollywood studios because of “China’s efforts to censor topics and exert propaganda controls on American media.”
Lawmakers even asked the GAO to consider whether the definition of national security should be broadened to address such concerns.
Rep. John Culberson, Republican of Texas, also wrote to the Justice Department requesting an update of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) that has not been reviewed since two decades ago.
Culberson believes FARA, which was adopted to counter rising propaganda from the Soviets and the Nazis in the US during the 1930s, should be adapted to foreign acquisitions so companies controlled by the Chinese Communist Party will not be able to exert “a significant degree of control over the financing and content of American media.”
Lawmakers who see Wanda’s big splash in Hollywood as a propoganda threat imposed by the Communist Party are “over-worried,” Wang said in a CNNMoney interview.
Wang insisted in both the CNNMoney and Times interviews that Hollywood movies may have more Chinese elements today because that means more money in the Chinese market, and their storytelling decisions have nothing to do with Wanda ownership.
Legendary’s production chief, Mary Parent, also told the Times that “there has been zero interference with storytelling.”
But the issue of censorship is not the concern of Richard Berman, the president of a D.C. lobbying firm Berman & Co, who has been campaigning on Capitol Hill over Chinese investment in Hollywood.
“People changing their movies so they can be shown in China is not my concern,” Berman told TheWrap. “The thing that really triggered my interest is the distribution issue. If you control distribution, you control what the retail market sees.”
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