I begin this post with a question because I don’t have an answer.
A book making news these days is The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. It’s about Hollywood’s active self-censorship to appease German censors during Hitler’s reign.
According to the book, movies critical of the Nazi regime were killed because they would have threatened all Hollywood exports into Germany at the time.
According to this NY Post piece, Hollywood is making the same sort of deal with the devil with China.
Changing plot lines, adding characters and scenes, changing the “bad guys” from Chinese to Russian — all to appease Chinese censors.
China is very careful about what movies it allows in its large and lucrative market. And this gatekeeper role gives it enormous power over Hollywood.
Which leads me to the question at hand: At what point does localization become capitulation?
This is question every company must ask itself when trying to expand into new markets and cultures.
A Hollywood studio would no doubt argue that it is simply localizing its product to comply with local laws and to succeed with customers.
Which means that Hollywood may end up one day localizing the “bad guys” for each market it enters.
Is this a bad thing? Or is this just good business?
Localization is, after all, about adapting to the market.
I do believe there is a line there, somewhere, that you shouldn’t cross.
When you find that you’re changing who you are to adapt to a market, you should pause to understand exactly what you are changing, exactly what you are sacrificing.
As for Hollywood “selling its soul” to succeed in China I would ask: What soul was there to sell?
But in all seriousness, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Companies are desperate to succeed in markets around the world — markets where they may indeed be asked or required to do things they don’t want to do.
I think of Mean Girls and the lengths that Lindsay Lohan’s character went in order to fit in. (Yes, all the great business issues of the world have been addressed by high school movies.)
And then I think of a quote I from the former CEO of Starbucks:
On a country-by-country basis, the largest hurdle we had to overcome was thinking we had to be different.