Ghostbusters (2016)

November 15, 2016

By Maddie Oliver and Dixie Rich

Who: Paul Fieg (Director)
What: Ghostbusters (2016)
When: July 2016
Where: China
Why: Representation of the supernatural

“Who you gonna call?” Surely not the Ghostbusters…

Within the last two decades, it has been widely popular for film production companies to remake “classic” movies. Based on the original Ghostbusters (1984), Ghostbusters (2016) was remade as part of this trend. The new Ghostbusters is a fantasy and science fiction film, produced by Columbia Pictures, about supernatural beings. Its premise is that the United States of America, specifically New York City, is invaded by ghosts, and four out-of-the-ordinary heroes fight off these supernatural intruders. The film features four female leads; Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones, which contrasts with the original film, which starred all male lead actors. In addition, the movie includes intense special effects to make the movie more captivating and realistic to the audience.

The film’s officially released on July 15th, 2016 in the United States . However, the movie never even hit the Chinese theaters. While it received rave reviews in the US, in China, the movie was banned because of its supernatural elements. Rolling Stone acknowledges, “the conservative nation’s sanctions against pop culture that promotes ‘cults or superstitious beliefs’” (Brameco 2016).

According to scholar Sebastian Veg “any production that enters China’s public sphere (book, magazine, newspaper, internet post, film, tv show…) is subject to some form of censorship, overseen by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).” In fact, films specifically need a distribution visa from the censorship committee prior to their release. According to Johnathon Green’s and Nicholas J. Karolides’ Encyclopedia of Censorship, the principle motive of the SAPPRFT is to look out for “the interests of all the people” and to speak “clearly and truthfully on the burning questions of the day” (104).

Yet in striving toward achieving these goals, the Chinese government also tightly controls citizens’ access to entertainment. The population has little to no say on what movies that it is allowed to view because few foreign films are released. Yuxing Zhou asserts that the Chinese government “is seeking to promote the country’s soft power internationally through cinema as China becomes the world’s second-largest economy” (239). China believes its policies serve as a form of self-advancement. But, according to “China’s current censorship rules, which feature a dual-track censoring mechanism for films circulated on different channels, and a double standard for foreign and independent films in comparison with domestic and official productions,” it has become an obstacle for people to view certain movies and generate original, creative content (Zhou 239). Nonetheless, the government believes that these policies still allow a creative environment to flourish. According to the 1982 constitution of the People’s Republic of China, it is guaranteed that there is full freedom of:

expression: Art. 35—citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration; art. 40—the freedom and privacy of correspondence of citizens of the People’s Republic of China are protected by law. No organization or individual may, on any ground, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of citizens’ correspondence except in cases where, to meet the needs of state security or of investigation into criminal offenses, public security, or procuratorial organs are permitted to censor correspondence in accordance with procedures prescribed by law (Green and Karolide 102).

These policies aim to ensure freedom of expression. If these policies were enforced, films such as Ghostbusters and other movies that refer to superstitions and ghosts would be accepted. However, the constitution also entails that:

articles that act to restrict such freedom, as well as laws governing libel and insult and false charge. Citizens… are forbidden to exercise their rights and freedoms if they ‘infringe upon the interests of the state, of society, and of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.’ They must not commit acts detrimental to the motherland and must keep ‘state secrets, protect public property, observe labor discipline and public order and respect social order (Green and Karolide 102).

Although these policies proclaim that freedom of expression and speech is the principal intention, the government has the power to alter public information, making it difficult to produce original and creative work, such as films, that are free from government intervention. Zhou informs that “no one knows the precise boundaries of censorship in China, Chinese filmmakers have to juggle their creativity and the censorship rules, or engage in self-censorship, for their work to gain a legitimate status in the world’s second-largest film market” (243). Under this legislation, even producing inside of the country poses a threat for censorship.

Another reason for film censorship in China is foreign competition. China actively attempting promotes the domestic film industry and tries to decrease the influence of external ones. Because of this practice, “foreign blockbusters are subject to particular scrutiny” (Veg). Therefore, it is more difficult to release an international film in China. Besides Ghostbusters, other films that were never released include the original GhostbustersCrimson Peak, and Painted Skin, which depict ghosts in one form or another. China censors minor aspects, such as representation of the supernatural, that would not be a problem in other countries. For example, “even wronged spirits, violent ghosts, monsters, demons, and other inhuman portrayals” never hit the screens (Yuxing 243). Unlike most supernatural-based movies, however, Ghostbusters (2016) adopts a comedic representation of ghosts. In addition, the film is rated PG-13 in the US, which implies that the film is appropriate for young teenagers. Yet even the green goopy figures that haunt New York were viewed as unsuitable for Chinese audiences.

According to an interview with scholar Sebastian Veg, China has two dominant areas for the censorship of media: content that is unsuitable on moral grounds, and content that could be presumed as “political” (or information that the socialist government does not agree with).  Subjects such as pornography and violence are not treated on the same level as movies with superstitious scenes. Depraved topics have “a direct connection to society” that ghost movies do not obtain (Pang 461). As a result, these movies “do not provoke the same moral panic or recourse to censorship, as modernity is assumed to have cleansed any superstitious elements from society and recast any residue as entertainment” (Pang 461). Yet Ghostbusters (2016) falls under the second category of Chinese censorship: it serves a potential threat to the political system. Due to the fact China is socialist, it “does not encourage the practice of religion in general,” and “supernatural elements are generally assimilated with religions or what China calls ‘superstitions,’ which the government does not encourage” (Veg). Accordingly, since this film establishes a connection with superstitious creatures, the government reacts as if the ghosts threaten the religious values of the citizens and influence the political environment. The state does not believe that it has the power to control the ghosts, as the paranormals may have a deeper, perhaps allegorical meaning than what appears on the surface. These latent meanings may influence people to become politically rebellious. However, Ghostbusters included a scene that condemned the ghosts, it would have been possible that it would be released in the country. This “unmasking” could have potentially reversed the idea that the ghosts held religious importance.

Gertrude the Ghost in Columbia Pictures' GHOSTBUSTERS.

Figure 6: Gertrude the Ghost in Columbia Pictures’ Ghostbusters


Looked at more broadly, however, the banning of Ghostbusters is ironic given China’s “long and rich cultural history” of ” ghost stories,” according to Pang (461). As a result, while China largely keeps ghosts off screens, it keeps the original ghost stories alive. These ghosts are found in Chinese mythology and tales of the afterlife. Ghosts, however, are considered an easy license to censor films. Is China considered the ghostbuster now?




Key words: China, Censorship, Ghostbusters, Film, Cinema, New York, Foreign, Superstitions, Supernatural, Ghosts, Paranormal

Works Cited

Bramesco, Charles. “Will ‘Ghostbusters’ Get Banned in China?” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 14 July 2016. Web. 09 Nov. 2016.

Francisco, Eric. “China vs. Ghosts.” Inverse. N.p., 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 07 Nov. 2016.

Ghostbusters 2016 Film Poster. Digital image. Ghostbusters (2016). Wikipedia, 31 Aug. 2016. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.

Green, Jonathon, and Nicholas J. Karolide. The Encyclopedia of Censorship. New York, NY: Facts on File, 2005. Print.

Quintano, Anthony. Above Gotham. Digital image. Manhattan. Wikipedia, 20 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Nov. 2016.

Obias, Rudie. “10 Movies That Were Banned in China.” Mental Floss. N.p., 14 July 2016. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

Pang, Laikwan. “The State against Ghosts: A Genealogy of China’s Film Censorship Policy.” Screen 52.4 (2011): 461-76. Web.

Zhou, Yuxing. “Pursuing Soft Power through Cinema: Censorship and Double Standards in Mainland China.” Journal of Chinese Cinemas 9.3 (2015): 239-52. Web.