With the release of Top Gun Maverick and all the buzz surrounding the issue of the Taiwan flag on Maverick’s leather jacket, Hollywood former movie executive and author Chris Fenton kindly accepted to answer a few questions for this blog. Needless to say, I was extremely happy to be exchanging with the producer of one of my favorite movies, Iron Man 3.
Here is the content of our exchange.
Mr. Fenton, the last couple of years have been difficult for the United States on the world scene and many observers are pontificating about its supposed loss of power. Do you think Top Gun Maverick is a good shot in the arm of American patriotism?
100% yes. Hollywood content can be an extremely effective tool for soft power. Top Gun is the best example of that.
What is the recipe for the success of that iconic movie?
The star power of Tom Cruise and the brand awareness among global consumers of the original Top Gun film.
The Taiwan flag was not supposed to appear on Maverick’s jacket – from what I remember of the 2019 trailer. Could you tell us why the situation has changed?
As CNN reported 3 years ago, the filmmakers removed the flags of Taiwan & Japan at the request of China’s Tencent. immediately lawmakers, fans, and journalists criticized the edits as pandering to the Chinese government, damaging free speech, offending the US military, and undermining American allies. In the years following, China’s massive film market has mostly shunned Hollywood movies, so the global goodwill generated by reinstating the flags easily outweighs any potential revenues from China. That’s a likely calculation that led to the decision.
Just to give my readers a better idea of how movies work, how troublesome and costly would it have been to change the jacket scene?
My guess is the flags were in the original cut. Then edited out in post-production. Then the filmmakers returned to the original cut. All of that is very easy and inexpensive to do in post-production
You wrote somewhere that “The global goodwill generated by reinstating the flags easily outweighs any potential revenues from China.” Could you tell us more about this global goodwill and how it affects the relationship between China and the United States?
My point is that the film garnered goodwill globally by doing-the-right-thing. A similar result occurred with the Women’s Tennis Association when they stood-up-for Peng Shuai when she was disappeared by the CCP. The WTA saw its brand awareness grow, events increased, and sponsors appeared with bigger deals.
From what I read in the past, Hollywood seemed to be going the whole nine yards not to displease Chinese authorities. What do you make of the current change of attitude?
Hollywood is starting to realize the aggravation of attempting to please China’s fickle and unpredictable censors is no longer worth the potential payoff.
Has the war in Ukraine anything to do with the mindset in Hollywood?
I think the two are unrelated with respect to Hollywood. However, if China makes a move on Taiwan, all bets are off!
Has China’s market become less important for the movie industry?
Yes. The hassle vs. the reward balance is no longer there.
Do you think people in Taiwan will be emboldened by the Maverick’s jacket accolade?
There are standing ovations in theaters in Taiwan during the flag’s appearance, so yes.
Movies are an excellent weapon of soft power. Do you think the attitude adopted with Top Gun Maverick in relation with Maverick’s jacket flag patch is the right way to go?
Yes. It’s time we took a hard stance on Beijing to level the playing field bilaterally. I don’t want war, but we must create a fair and balanced dynamic.
Do you think the Hollywood film industry is strong enough to resist any Chinese backlash in the aftermath of Top Gun Maverick?
Hollywood is strong as are many other American industries. We need to remember that. We can definitely take a stand to do the right thing while also enjoying the fruits of successful businesses.
Do you have another book on your writing table? If so, would you agree to tell us what will be the subject?
I’m working on another book while juggling producing, speaking, and investing. It’s coming, but no one should hold their breath waiting for it. The subject is the US-China relationship, but I have an idea of how to bring the subject to the masses, not just those interested in China and/or Hollywood and business.
Thank you very much Mr. Fenton for the generosity of your time!
Chris Fenton is the author of Feeding the Dragon: Inside the Trillion Dollar Dilemma Facing Hollywood, the NBA, & American Business published by Post Hill Press (Simon & Schuster).