I would normally follow the Oscars about as avidly as I’d follow Miss World or the Eurovision Tiddlywinks Cup. (Still haven’t seen Parasite, or Titanic, or even Sound of Music.) But the Hollywood bore-fest suddenly becomes fascinating if Beijing is scurrying around trying to micromanage the event – or at least perceptions of it.
Hong Kong entry Do Not Split didn’t get a prize, but got a name-check from the documentary-category winner. This film was probably the reason TVB didn’t broadcast the ceremony (the station’s only chance this year at getting decent ratings, probably). Another Hong Kong-ish nominee was Better Days, which was subject to much Mainland-meddling.
The big story is that Nomadland by China-born Chloe Zhao won best director award. As the first Chinese (Asian/non-white/etc) woman to win this accolade, she should be the pride and joy of Beijing’s hyper-curated domestic media apparatus. Added bonuses: the film depicts the US as a post-capitalist dystopia; and Zhao’s acceptance speech included nuggets of ancient Chinese wisdom – all right up Beijing’s street.
But because she once said something not totally adoring of the nation, the CCP had ordered state censors to erase her person, film and the actual award from the news. Instead of an easy (not to say unearned), ethno-nationalistic soft-power victory for the Glorious Motherland, the Leninist system orders another sullen, stroppy sulk. Funniest cinematic thing since Airplane! (By contrast, Koreans – free to make their own minds up about such things – celebrate an award for one of their actresses.)
Any Hong Kong civil servants showing enthusiasm for Chloe Zhao’s success will be reported to the NatSec Gestapo and demoted.
So China still awaits an Oscar the CCP isn’t too embarrassed to claim as Chinese. It will probably be something like The Wizard of Xi Jinping Thought, Some Like Xi Jinping Thought Hot, Lawrence of Xi Jinping Thought, Xi Jinping Thought at Tiffany’s, Gone With the Xi Jinping Thought, A Fist Full of Xi Jinping Thoughts, or Debbie Does Xi Jinping Thought.
Elsewhere in the Hurt Feelings Dept, Beijing freaks out over Australia cancelling Victoria’s mainly-symbolic Belt and Road agreement and the UK parliament’s also-symbolic motion recognizing genocide in Xinjiang. The former is an instructive example of how a free country can liberate itself from worry about Panda-Tantrums if it just sits out the panty-wetting and mouth-frothing until the Chinese officials reach their limit. (Incidentally, ASPI have done a slide-show explainer on Beijing’s Xinjiang disinformation on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere – worth a look for the fancy graphics/design, starting with a shot of the Xinjiang lavender fields.)
Canada, on the other hand, falls to its knees and does a stomach-churning pre-emptive kowtow any time Beijing demands. A Chinese-based hotpot restaurant in Vancouver – popular with PRC citizens – was recently found to have a surveillance system including two cameras per table sending live footage back to China. Some believe it is a test to see what Beijing can get away with.