British actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster was removed from the official poster for Denis Villanueve’s new film, “Dune”, in the version released for promotion in China.
Although Duncan-Brewster plays a supporting role in the new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel, her character occupies an important position in the story: an environmentalist-turned-diplomat who helps a noble house take control of a mining planet in a distant galaxy.
This is clear in the original edition of the poster, intended to promote the film in the West, in which she occupies a space next to the rest of the main characters.
The removal of Duncan-Brewster’s image was highlighted in a tweet by China-Africa Project, a U.S.-based organization that aims to explore “all aspects of China’s engagement with Africa,” according to its official website.
However, the organization deleted the tweet following the publication of an article in the Global Times, a public media outlet affiliated with the Communist Party of China, which said that China-Africa Project “seeks to undermine China-Africa relations” with its publication.
China-friendly poster: not for the first time
The removal of Duncan-Brewster from the poster is especially attention-grabbing because it has happened before. In 2015, the photograph of black actor John Boyega was drastically reduced on the Chinese edition of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens poster, in which he played one of the film’s main characters.
Other characters, such as Chewbacca and Poe Dameron, were also missing, while the BB-8 droid was much larger in the Chinese version.
At the time, Hollywood was heavily criticized for its apparent intentions to pander to the Chinese authorities and accusations of racism.
In fact, the organization PEN America made public a report in 2020 in which it singled out Hollywood for censoring its films to please the film market in China, as a way to ensure the sale of its productions in the Asian giant.
The PEN report suggested that the cast, content, dialogue, and plots of Hollywood films were increasingly being adapted to appease censors in Beijing.
In other words, PEN claimed that China was influencing films released in cinemas around the world.
One example they used was the Marvel superhero movie released in 2016, Dr. Strange. According to the report, Hollywood “whitewashed” a major character of Tibetan origin, played by Tilda Swinton, for fear of jeopardizing the film’s chances of success at the box office in China.
Dune was released in China last Friday but was beaten at the box office by local production The Battle at Lake Changin.