Chinese audiences are unlikely to see two of this year’s biggest superhero movies as both Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Black Adam seem likely to be blocked from release into the country’s vast moviegoing market. The expected ban would fall in line with the last several years of Chinese censorship which has seen some of the biggest superhero films of all time fail to get approval to show in China.
Both marvel and Dwayne Johnson vehicles have a proven track record in China with the original Black Panther earning $105 million there in 2018 and Johnson’s Skyscraper and Hobbs & Shaw pulling in $98 million and $201 million respectively. Beijing’s crackdown on American franchises represents the loss of tens of millions of dollars per movie for the studio and is all the more frustrating as there doesn’t seem to be any particular rule of thumb to explain the regulators’ decisions.
China was one of Marvel’s most reliable markets but bans on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), Eternals (2021), and Spider-Man: No Way Home have led some to believe that all Marvel films are now subject to a blanket de facto ban. Beijing’s regulators consistently decline to explain why any film is stamped as forbidden meaning that there is little studios can do other than theorize why any particular film offended Chinese sensibilities.
The leading theory for why Wakanda Forever will get the axe is the inclusion of a less than five-second exchange between the Wakandan warriors Aneka and Ayo in which they share a chaste forehead kiss and say “I love you”. China has historically taken a dim view of homosexuality in films even going so far as to excise any hint of same-sex relationships in Bohemian Rhapsody and Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore.
It is currently the policy of marvel’s parent company, Disney to not censor or allow other countries to censor LGBTQ content in their movies, a stance which has resulted in films such as Lightyear being blocked by multiple countries where de facto or de jure bans on homosexuality exist.
And while Black Adam has no openly-queer characters, one of its actors’ political stances may be even more onerous to the Chinese government. Pierce Brosnan, who portrays Dr. Fate in the movie has posted pictures of himself and the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama — a figure Beijing considers to be a separatist who seeks independence for his homeland of Tibet, now an autonomous region of China.
Ironically, the recent bans seem to be hurting someone else besides American studios — theater owners in China itself. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Chinese box office sales are currently down 35 percent from 2021, according to data from Artisan Gateway.