Last week, Disney’s Christopher Robin was reported to have been denied a theatrical release in China, the world’s second-largest movie market, and according to sources for The Hollywood Reporter, a certain honey-loving bear might be the culprit.
In the past, China has censored terms related to Winnie the Pooh online because of Chinese internet users’ fondness for using Pooh as a stand-in for Xi Jinping.
Sensitivity in China regarding the bear’s visual resemblance to China’s political leader appears to show no sign of relenting. Two months ago, mentions of the British comedian John Oliver were censored on Weibo after Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight examined Xi’s recent rise in power and alluded to the memes of Winnie the Pooh. Shortly afterwards, HBO’s website was also blocked in China.
Censors have always been sensitive to depictions of the president and allusions to his policies. During the World Cup, a joke about Lionel Messi wanting “to be captain for three more terms” got its originator in trouble, as “three more terms” was a subtle reference to China’s removal of presidential term limits in March.
But some industry insiders have reasoned that there might be a more innocuous reason related to Christopher Robin denied release. In China, there is a quota that allows only 34 foreign films to be imported on a revenue-sharing basis. Not every studio movie can obtain those coveted spots, and A Wrinkle in Time, another Disney movie, was denied a release earlier this year.
China’s pooh-poohing of the Winnie the Pooh movie comes at a stressful time for Xi. The country has recently faced economic headwinds because of its trade war with the U.S., and according to news reports, Xi’s leadership has received some recent pushback from within the Communist Party.