Local Writer’s Book on China and Hollywood Makes an Impact |

The plot of the movie “Red Dawn” which was produced in the 1980s was about teenagers fighting an invasion from the Soviet Union. When MGM did it again in 2009, the Chinese were the invaders.

But this version never made it to the screen.

“When China discovered this, authorities made it very clear that this could be an issue that could get MGM banned from the market,” said Erich Schwartzel, author of “Red Carpet: Hollywood, China and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy. “. ” recently published by Penguin Press.

So MGM sent the film to a visual effects company, and a million dollars later every reference to China was changed. When the movie was released in 2012, the haters were from North Korea.

“It was a radical example and taught everyone that they couldn’t release a movie with a Chinese villain,” he said. “They know it could punish them economically in the market.”

Schwartzel, 35, son of Paul and Romayne Schwartzel of Unity Township, graduated in 2005 from Greater Latrobe High School. Today entertainment reporter for The Wall Street JournalHe got his start in journalism while doing an internship at Newsletter before graduating from Boston University in 2009.

“The response to the book has been incredible,” he told the Newsletter“and it’s been very bipartisan.”

He’s been interviewed on NPR, CNN, ABC News, on Fox with Maria Bartiroma, and other outlets, including a podcast with Ben Domenech and the Buck Sexton and Clay Travis Show. Snippets ran in the the wall street journal and Atlantic.

Schwartzel worked for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette as a business journalist where his coverage included the fracking boom and then its collapse. He was hired by the the wall street journal to cover business in Los Angeles where he saw the influences China had on Hollywood.

“I started noticing that it was a bit piecemeal, that there would be stories about a Chinese actress in a new movie, or a Chinese billionaire coming in to write a check,” he said. declared. “I could tell the Chinese box office was going up. Once, 27 new screens were filling up in one day. They were building new movie theaters. Over the past decade, the number of screens in China has exploded. Its box office is growing very quickly at a time when the American box office is not. It didn’t take a genius to realize that this is where the growth will be.

Schwartzel learned enough to write a book and went on the road to find out more.

“Over the past two and a half decades, China has seen the largest internal migration in its history,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of Chinese moved from their homes in the countryside to the city, and so they had to build these cities where people could live, and they wanted to make the cities attractive with new hospitals, new shopping centers and new cinemas. ”

Then came the quest to dominate the entertainment industry. The Chinese knew how American films influenced culture, Schwartzel noted, and that America had become the dominant superpower as American films were seen by people around the world.

“It became known as soft power,” he said. “When you look at how countries become superpowers, one way is military power, and another is soft power, or culture.”

A political scientist quoted in the book explained that American culture has become an empire by invitation. It became a place people wanted to go because America was introduced through films that captured the hearts and minds of audiences around the world.

Chinese money has been influential in many ways. Not only does it finance films and build theaters, but it also controls content.

“Tibet is a no-fly zone for Hollywood,” Schwartzel said in reference to the bad blood between China and Tibet. “No one in Hollywood is going to touch a movie about Tibet or the Dali Lama. Years ago Disney was making a Marvel movie about Doctor Strange, and in the original comics there’s a Tibetan monk. intentionally replaced by a Celtic monk so that there is no connection with Tibet.

The search took him to China where he saw Disney’s major investments in a theme park they built in Shanghai, toy stores to promote their products and a series of schools where children learn about English with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Elsa and other popular Disney characters.

“I spoke to a teacher at one of the schools who told me that they were filling a deal in China because the parents there really want their children to learn English to be citizens of the world” , did he declare. “But it was really a marketing venture. When I walked past one of these schools in Shanghai, there was a new Disney store that opened that week and all the teachers were wearing shirts to make it the advertising.

Not everyone was willing to talk to him openly. He contacted a person, a Westerner who had worked in China, who took out his cell phone, turned it off and put it on the other side of the restaurant.

“They were worried about the surveillance on the phone and even wondering if he should have been left in the car,” Schwartzel said. “And the most important thing is that we meet in Los Angeles, not in China.”

Finding the book wasn’t always easy.

“There’s definitely an apprehension about talking about it a lot because of how aggressively China responds to criticism or discussion of things that China doesn’t want talked about,” he said.

Schwartzel returns to the area frequently to visit family and friends and hopes to host a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Hempfield, where he spent a lot of time growing up in Wimmerton.

“I imagined going back to my childhood bookstore with my own book,” he said.

And around that time, he did an internship at Newsletter.

“I was one of the last to follow a very traditional route to start in my hometown newspaper before moving on to the next bigger newspaper and then to another bigger newspaper,” he said. “My favorite job at Newsletter wrote the police blotter. We got it from the fax machine and wrote the reports. I remember trying at times, much to editor Steve Kittey’s annoyance, to make it as creative as possible. But I’ve learned that sometimes you have to stick to the facts. I loved doing an internship at Newsletter. It was really fantastic. There’s a lot of responsibility to write for a local newspaper because everyone knows everyone else. That summer, I interned there, then went to my paid job while waiting on the tables at the Mountain View Inn.

Schwartzel’s second book on the social, political and economic history of the Star Wars films will soon be published by Penguin Press.