China Lifts Ban on Marvel Movies, But Why Were They Banned in the First Place?

A profile shot of Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) staring off into the distance while wearing a black head wrap in a scene from

Next month, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will become the first Marvel films to premiere in China in over three years. China revealed the lifting of its (unofficial) ban in a surprise post on January 17, via the social media platform Weibo. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will receive a February 7 release date in China, while Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will premiere on the same day in both the U.S. and China, on February 17. These films will be the first MCU titles released in China since Spider-Man: No Way Home, which premiered on July 2, 2019.

All of the MCU’s most recent films, including Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, have not been released in China. Individual films in the MCU have been banned in certain countries before. For example, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which featured a character who is bisexual, was banned in Saudi Arabia, as was Eternals for featuring an openly gay superhero. However, China’s three-year total ban on Marvel movies is a bit more extreme than these examples of censorship.

With China boasting the second-largest movie market in the world, their ban on Marvel films was quite impactful and meant that Marvel and Disney missed out on millions in ticket sales. Meanwhile, China announced the lift of the ban similarly to how they started it—with no official statement or explanation. Despite the country not giving an explicit explanation for the banning, their actions can be explained by competition and censorship.

Why did China ban Marvel movies for three years?

Ikaris and Sersi share an embrace in Marvel's Eternals.
(Marvel Studios)

One reason that China could’ve banned Marvel movies is from a competitive standpoint. As stated above, China boasts the largest movie market in the world, second only to North America. The China Film Administration is tasked with choosing which foreign films to release in the country and it is very selective. When approving or disapproving foreign films for release, the administration always keeps the domestic film market in mind. They want to prioritize promoting domestic films above foreign films, which means there are strict limits on the number of foreign films approved for release.

Another factor that the China Film Administration also considers is censorship. It is a well-known fact that China, under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), boasts some of the strictest censorship laws in the world, and those laws extend to TV and film. LGBTQ+ content, any perceived criticism of China, and overt themes of American patriotism are just a few things that could get a film censored in the country. Films like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness could’ve been banned in China, as it was in other countries, for including America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a character who is part of the LBGTQ+ community, as she is in the comics. Meanwhile, many have speculated that Eternals, and potentially other Marvel films, were banned in China as a form of retaliation against director Chloe Zhao.

Zhao directed Eternals, a film that began development in close proximity to the beginning of China’s ban. Meanwhile, Zhao, a Chinese filmmaker born in Beijing, has faced censorship for being critical of China and its “lies” in a 2013 interview. Since the interview was uncovered, China has heavily censored Zhao, going so far as to censor her Academy Award win for Nomadland. Some reports have also suggested that China was unhappy with the depiction of Chinese characters in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It has also been speculated that a split-second shot of The Epoch Times—an extremely conservative paper that opposes the Chinese Communist Party and is associated with Falun Gong (a religious movement)—in Doctor Strange 2 was enough reason for China to ban the film.

Between censorship and a desire to prioritize domestic films, there are countless reasons China may have found for banning each Marvel film for the past three years.

(featured image: Marvel Studios)

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