‘Friends’ Re-Released in China But LGBTQ Storylines Get Censored – The Srdtf News

‘Friends’ Re-Released in China But LGBTQ Storylines Get Censored – The Hollywood Reporter

WarnerMedia’s now classic 1990s sitcom Friends began streaming again on China’s major video platforms last week, however numerous censorship changes soon sparked outrage among loyal Chinese fans of the show.

Several memorable sequences were altered or cut, including an entire storyline about Ross’s ex-wife being in a relationship with a woman. Local viewers took to Chinese social media site Weibo to protest censorship of the show, with #FriendsCensored becoming the site’s top trending topic until the hashtag itself was censored by internet regulators. The hashtag had received over 60 million views before it was removed over the weekend, with search results instead leading to the message, “this topic is not shown according to relevant laws and regulations.”

Friends first aired legally in China in 2012 on Chinese streaming platforms Sohu video and iQiyi without any cuts, but a generation of Chinese millennials were already well acquainted with the series thanks to widely available subtitled pirate copies.

Sohu and iQiyi’s original licensing deal ended way back in 2013, but after HBO Max’s Friends: The Reunion special generated a wave of nostalgia and excitement in China last Spring, the two local streamers, along with additional services Bilibili and Tencent Video, banded to together to re-license the full show. As usual in such situations, it’s unclear whether the censorship changes that followed were specifically requested by media regulators or if the platforms made the cuts of their own accord, anticipating “problem areas.”

While the sequence involving Ross’s lesbian ex-wife was removed altogether (making its episode largely incomprehensible), other scenes involving mentions of sex or LGBTQ situations were tweaked via adjustments to the Chinese subtitles. In one scene where the show’s six friends —  Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and Schwimmer — are debating the advantages of men vs women, Ross mentions that “[Women can have] multiple orgasms.” In the new Chinese version, the audio was left uncut but the subtitles instead read: “Women have endless gossip.”

Some Weibo users poked fun at the assumption that no one in China knows the English word “orgasm,” while another commenter, whose post received over 80,000 likes, said: “Not only does it ignore women’s sexual desire and enjoyment, but also reinforces the gender stereotype of women.”

In other snippets of dialog, the word “lesbian” was replaced with the Chinese word for “ex-wife,” while the statement “I have a penis” was translated as “I have different organs than a woman.”

Tencent Video and iQIyi did not respond to The Srdtf News‘s request for comment.

Friends: The Reunion also was censored when it aired in China last year. Cameos made by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and K-pop super group BTS were all dropped from the Chinese version. Gaga was cut because of a brief meeting she held years ago with the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing regards as a dangerous separatist, while Bieber was banned over a hapless visit he once made to a shrine in Japan that controversially honors the country’s war dead, including war criminals accused of committing atrocities in China (Bieber plead ignorance but it didn’t matter — he hasn’t performed in China since). And BTS once outraged Chinese nationalists by thanking Korea’s war heroes for their sacrifices during an awards speech — while neglecting to praise Chinese soldiers for their losses during the same conflict.

Censorship on Chinese screens large and small has undergone a considerable tightening during recent years of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s rule. A series of directives and updates to censorship guidelines have called for a moral cleansing of cultural discourse and an end of “celebrity worship.”

The removal of LQBTQ storylines from Friends is reminiscent of other Chinese examples. After 20th Century Fox’s Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody won multiple Oscars in 2018, it was granted a theatrical release in the country — but only after all mentions of Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality were cut from the film. The movie earned $14 million in China, but human rights groups were vocally critical of Fox for letting Beijing screen the cut version.

Just last month, David Fincher’s 1999 cult movie Fight Club was censored in a way that changed the movie’s entire ending before it began streaming on Tencent Video. The cuts sparked a wave of media attention around the world — as well as some social media backlash within China — and the streamer eventually reversed course, replacing the cut version with a less butchered copy that retained the story’s original ending. The streamer’s surrender was highly unusual in China, where censorship decisions are seldom even acknowledged by the companies or authorities that make them, let alone reversed due to public pressure.

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