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Disney Downplays Chinese Blocking Of Films: Problems 'Will Eventually Iron Themselves Out'

The head of Walt Disney Co.’s (NYSE: DIS) Asia-Pacific market is insisting the Chinese government’s refusal to schedule a local release of its recent films will be resolved and not disrupt the company’s investment in China.

What Happened: China limits the number of international films that play in local cinemas, and Hollywood action epics are mostly given priority when filling the quota for non-Chinese movies. However, three of Disney’s Marvel titles — “Black Widow,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “The Eternals” — have yet to secure a Chinese playdate.

While the Chinese authorities do not give official reasons for denying screens to international films, they also are not accommodating of overseas talent that criticizes Chinese Communist Party policies. “The Eternals” director Chloé Zhao and “Shang-Chi” star Simu Liu, both Chinese-born and now residing in the U.S., have previously given interviews that were harshly critical of human rights abuses in their homeland, to the irritation of Communist Party officials.

However, there appears to be no similar reason for “Black Widow” to be absent from China, nor is it clear why “Jungle Cruise” has also not been scheduled. The most recent Disney films to play in China were “Free Guy” and “Luca” — the latter title, an animated feature, was not theatrically released in the U.S. but premiered stateside on the Disney+ streaming service.

What’s Happening Now: In a Variety interview, Disney’s Asia-Pacific president Luke Kang insisted the company is not having a problem with the Chinese authorities.

“Disney has a fantastic record in China,” Kang said. “We are a major player there. We have a very long-term view on relationships. We are not really focused on individual events.”

When pressed further on the studio’s films being held from Chinese release, Kang insisted there was no festering problem and added that the various Disney brands, including Marvel, were very popular with Chinese audiences.

“Going forward, we are very optimistic,” he continued. “Short term challenges will eventually iron themselves out.”

Still, Kang acknowledged the Chinese authorities could be opaque in their decision making.

“It is hard to predict the moves of a government,” he said, noting that “within the constraints and confines that we are given, we are able to maximize our reach and potential.”

Photo: Simu Liu in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” courtesy of Disney.

© 2021 Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.

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