Dear Relativity Media,
Let me start by saying that I have no grudge against your company. You guys have made some great movies! Blood Diamond? I enjoyed that. The Social Network was great. Granted, you also made Doom, but everybody makes mistakes. So I want you to know it’s not about the movies.
It’s not even about 21 and Over, although let’s face it, if I wanted to watch The Hangover again, I could just watch The Hangover, and if I wanted to watch a shitty version of it, I could watch The Hangover II, so I’m not sure what market you’re shooting for with this film. But hey, that’s why I don’t work in the film business.
No, my concern is not with your terrible-sounding movie, which I’m sure will gross a bazillion dollars. It’s with the place you’ve chosen to shoot it: Linyi, Shandong, China.
Now, I suspect you had reasons for choosing this location. Probably even a lot of reasons. And it certainly seems like you’ve made good friends with the local authorities, who are more than happy to have you visiting Linyi:
The Chinese Communist Party Secretary of Linyi’s Municipal Committee, Zhang Shajun, who ranks above the local mayor, issued a statement welcoming the production to his city and adding that he “particularly welcome(s) my good friend (Relativity CEO) Ryan Kavanaugh and his great company” to his “historic city,” adding: “We promise to provide the best service possible in order to help make the movie successful worldwide.”
And you guys are excited too, clearly:
Tucker Tooley, Relativity’s co-President said the Sky land partners love this “hysterical film and it’s gratifying they want to build a foundation immediately alongside our cast and crew. We are very much looking forward to shooting in China, especially in a place as amazing as Linyi.”
Linyi is an amazing place, and what’s more, it makes total sense to shoot an American buddy-comedy there, especially these days when the US is full of icky poor people whining about how they don’t have jobs because American companies have taken all the work overseas.
I wonder, though: do you guys know who you’ve hopped in bed with?
It’s a rhetorical question; even if you didn’t know before, after yesterday’s media firestorm you certainly do. So you know that those same local officials praising your decision to come to Linyi are probably the ones paying teams of thugs to surround Chen Guangcheng’s village and beat anyone who tries to get near it. You know that they’re the ones who’ve been holding an innocent ((Convicted of a crime, yes, but served his time and was released; by Chinese law he should be free)) man and his family hostage, without charges or any kind of legal proceedings.
Until recently, your Linyi government pals were the same ones preventing Chen’s six-year-old daughter from attending school. But hey, good news on that front! They’re letting her go to school now, as long as she never leaves the sight of a couple of their agents. After all, you never know what kind of trouble a six-year-old could get up to! In fact, that sounds like it could make a hilarious movie! Six and Over! There you go, guys, that one’s a freebie. Use it for the prequel.
So anyway, yes, Linyi is an “amazing” place, in that it’s currently at the center of a human rights firestorm, and its government is clearly complicit in something that’s completely indefensible even by the sometimes-Orwellian laws of China. Sounds like a great place to film a comedy. And I’m sure all the money you’re paying those Linyi officials is being used only for, you know, tourism or something. I’m sure none of it goes to paying the thug army they’ve got surrounding Chen’s village.
Now, to be fair, you probably didn’t get yourselves into this on purpose. My guess — and this is just pure speculation — is that you were offered a ridiculously cheap place to shoot with some extra perks and you said yes without looking into it. And yes, in doing that, you placed your foot squarely into the PR bear trap that you’re in right now.
Because now, you’re kinda fucked. If you stay in Linyi, it’s a PR nightmare. My little blog is one thing, but I have a feeling we’ll see this story in some Western papers come Monday.
My guess? That’s just the beginning.
But if you leave Linyi, you’re definitely going to piss off local and perhaps national government officials. My guess is you’d be giving up any chance to shoot in China again for a long time. These guys don’t like being criticized, and they don’t like being embarrassed by Western companies that grow a conscience.
So, what should you do? I’m no expert, but let me help you weigh the options here. You can either piss off the American media and whatever percentage of your audience chooses to pay attention, or you can piss off some government leaders who are giving you a great deal on shooting your hilarious movie so long as you keep quiet about how they’re using your money to hold a blind man hostage.
Personally, I’d say leave Linyi. Like, tomorrow. Or hey, even today! It certainly seems like the moral choice, and I don’t understand why you’d want to shoot an American buddy comedy in China anyway (well, except for because of this).
We know you’re aware of the issue (see image). And while I understand the “no comment” response — you probably need some time to get your ducks in a row — please be aware that people are not just going to forget about this if you choose to do nothing. People haven’t forgotten about Chen and his family, and even though they’re beaten and robbed, people keep trying to visit him. Relativity Media needs to seriously consider which side of that equation it wants to be on.
Because maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but holding an innocent blind man and his family in their house, beating and robbing well-intentioned net users trying to visit him, and then lying about it to the world does not sound like a great premise for a hilarious buddy comedy. And every day you’re in Linyi shooting 21 and Over, you’re funding that, too, whether you want to be or not.
Do the right thing here.
Update: Who to Send This To
If you’d like to send this letter to Relativity Media or people associated with the film, Artists Speak Out has collected a good list of people and ways to contact them.
I recommend you check out their whole post, which also includes sample messages to send, but excerpted below are a bunch of contact details from their post:
Send Tweets to the Lead Actors in 21 and Over
Call, Fax or Email Relativity Media
Phn: +1 310 859 1250
Fax: +1 310 859 1254
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
SVP, Theatrical Distribution
Vice President, Field Marketing
Director of Development
SPV, Theatrical Distribution
Senior Vice-President, Sales & Operations
UPDATE: Relativity Media Responds:
Their official statement:
“From its founding, Relativity Media has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of human rights and we would never knowingly do anything to undermine this commitment. We stand by that commitment and we are proud of our growing business relationships in China, through our partnership with Sky Land, its strategic alliance with Huaxia Film Distribution Company. As a company, we believe deeply that expanding trade and business ties with our counterparts in China and elsewhere can result in positive outcomes.”