Culture Matters

Spherex's weekly insights into the globalization of entertainment.

Understanding international cultural trends and narratives is critical to the media and entertainment industry’s ability to adapt, evolve and innovate.


Italy scraps film censorship

Italy has abolished film censorship, as part of a new decree establishing the Film Classification Commission, the culture minister has announced. "The system of controls and interventions that still allowed the state to intervene on the freedom of artists has been overcome definitively," said culture minister Dario Franceschini. The move will bring an end to the state's power to censor scenes or bans movies outright, with the newly formed commission comprising 49 experts whose task will be to assess the "correct classification of cinematographic works." Films are classified under various age brackets in Italy, beginning with movies suitable for children under the age of six. The other categories include over-14s (or aged 12+ if accompanied by parent) and over 18s (or 16+ accompanied by adult). The panel's members include expert representatives from the film industry, from producers to directors, as well as those involved in education and the protection of children and animals. In the past, films by Italian directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci and Luchino Visconti were the subject of censorship in their home country under legislation dating back to 1913. [Italy]


Genocide - The Musical: China releases movie about happy Uighurs in propaganda bid to counter international fury over the minority group's treatment

China has released a new state-produced musical showing Uighurs singing and dancing as part of a propaganda bid to counter international fury over the minority group's treatment. The 100-minute-long film set in Xinjiang and has hit the country's cinemas under the uplifting title 'The Wings of Songs'. Uighurs can be seen happily singing and dancing in colourful outfits against spectacular backdrops in the movie, inspired by the Hollywood blockbuster 'La La Land'. It portrays a rural idyll of ethnic cohesion devoid of repression, mass surveillance and even the Islam of its majority Uighur population, a non-Chinese ethnic group living in the supposedly autonomous Xinjiang Province, north-west China. China is on an elaborate PR offensive to rebrand the north-western region where the United States and other western nationals and human rights groups say genocide has been inflicted on the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. [China]


Politics take centerstage in popular South Korean films

When director Woo Min-ho first thumbed through the novel "The Man Standing Next," he knew he had found the perfect template for a film that could tap into increasing domestic and global interest in South Korea's often fractured political history. "Films that deal with the painful political past have been well-received by the critics and gained commercial success [recently]," said Woo. "Also, there are many TV series that depict and criticize social and political weaknesses. I believe today [Korean audiences] are almost entirely open-minded." Woo was on the money. While director Bong Joon-ho's Oscar-winning dark satire "Parasite" and the flood of K-dramas sweeping the world's streaming platforms have helped shed light on day-to-day issues within contemporary Korean society, there have also been a number of films -- such as "The Man Standing Next" -- that have dug deep into politics, and have been commercial and critical hits. "Many Koreans are interested in politics and have the strong will to dig up the wrong histories of the past and to correct them," explained Woo. "As there is a preference of audiences for these certain contents, if the idea is good, I thought the investment would go smoothly." [South Korea]


Freedom & Justice: Kobi Rana movie on corruption & galamsey banned from premiering to air online today

Freedom and Justice, a movie by Ghanaian filmmaker, Kobi Rana, that was banned from premiering by the Ghana Tourism Authority is set to come out this Friday, April 2, 2021. The movie, as shown by the trailer sighted by YEN.com.gh borders around corruption, galamsey, injustice and other cankers that are supposedly eating up the Ghanaian political system. As it was previously reported, the film was first scheduled to be premiered at 11 major towns and cities around the country from December 25, 2020, to January 2, 2021. An official statement from the movie producers shared by Kafui Danku indicated that the movie had already sold 2,154 tickets. However, the venues for the premiers were reportedly served notices from the Ghana Tourism Authority to not show the movie, with no information to the movie producers themselves. The statement also categorically mentioned that the venues were visited, warned and locked by armed policemen to ensure that the movie does not premier. [Ghana]


YouTube to collect tax from Kenyan content creators

Kenyan YouTube content creators are expected to submit their tax information to the video-sharing platform by March 31 in order to avoid a hefty 24% taxation on their earnings. In a new requirement, the Google-owned service will require content creators to pay taxes to the United States. YouTube wrote a statement to creators, informing them of the condition, which will begin in June. “We’re reaching out because Google will be required to deduct U.S taxes from payments to creators outside the U.S later this year (as early as June 2021). Over the next few weeks, we’ll be asking you to submit your tax info in AdSense to determine the correct amount of taxes to deduct, if any apply,” reads part of the message by YouTube. [Kenya]


Post-Magufuli, will Tanzania review its repressive online content regulations?

Tanzania has experienced remarkable internet, communications and technological advancements over the last decade. Nevertheless, the state often plays an influential role over Tanzanian media companies and platforms and independent media lacks diversity in terms of viewpoints and representation. The internet created new spaces online for Tanzania’s young bloggers and social media activists to make their voices heard, but the government has not welcomed this new reality. In 2010, Tanzania first published the Electronic and Postal Communications Act, the first of its kind in the country. By 2018, specific regulations regarding online content were released through Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2018. The government argued that these regulations were intended to monitor and regulate citizens’ use of social media, in particular, and tackle issues like hate speech and disinformation. However, the regulations applied not only to mainstream media but to individual bloggers and content providers, who were shocked by the new requirement to pay $900 United States dollars for a license. This includes anyone who produces live-streaming TV or radio. The sudden imposition of fees turned Tanzanian social media dark as many bloggers and content providers gave up due to the exorbitant costs. Opposition politicians and social media practitioners critiqued the regulations for undermining online media freedoms as well as civil society. [Tanzania]


Netflix Takes Down 'Cuties' After Controversy, But Only in One Country

Months after it faced fierce backlash and accusations that it sexualized young girls; Netflix has removed Maïmouna Doucouré's controversial film Cuties. The streamer confirmed in its annual Environmental Social Governance Report for 2020 that the film, about a young Senegalese Muslim girl, was removed from its platform in Turkey, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film was removed alongside a Season 2 episode of Designated Survivor that featured Turkey's president demanding the extradition of a Turkish opposition leader and bore similarities to the dispute between the Turkish government and cleric Fethullah Gulen. The decision to remove Cuties came after Turkey's media watchdog RTUK in September ordered the streamer to remove the film from its Turkish portal. The decision to require Netflix to remove the film, according to the Middle East Eye, followed a unanimous vote from the board members who were elected by the opposition parties and came just a month after Turkey's Ministry of Family and Social Policy said Cuties "may cause children to be open to negligence and abuse, and negatively impact their psychosocial development." The Ministry of Family and Social Policy also noted that the film appeared to be a children’s movie, but had an 18+ rating. [Turkey]


Iranians say TV spy thriller partially censored by regime

A controversial Iranian TV spy thriller is once again generating buzz in the Islamic Republic, drawing the ire of government officials and complaints from viewers Sunday over alleged censorship in the second season finale. The fictional series, titled “Gando,” chronicles the exploits of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard agents — in the style of James Bond or Jason Bourne. Hardliners and other fans of the show are blaming the government for pulling the second season off the air prematurely, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported. When uncut scenes surfaced Sunday on Aparat.com, an Iranian version of YouTube, speculation swirled on social media about possible government censorship. The clips showed that episodes aired last week had altered dialogue to replace mentions of “the president” with “an official.” The first season grabbed headlines for depicting Iranian intelligence operatives combating an American super spy who bears a striking resemblance to Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian. Before being freed in a prisoner swap in 2016, Rezaian spent 18 months in an Iranian prison on charges of espionage that he and American officials denied. The show, which valorizes Iran’s hardliners and portrays Iran’s Foreign Ministry as inept, long has caused consternation among relative moderates in the government. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif railed against the second season on the the popular audio chat app Clubhouse last week, calling it a “lie from beginning to end.” When the first season aired in the summer of 2019, Zarif sent a formal letter of protest to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [Iran]


Content in Regional Lingo Gains Traction

Streaming videos in Marathi, TV shows in Bhojpuri and advertisements in Malayalam are set to end the domination of Hindi and English as a growing number of Indians are choosing to consume media and entertainment in their own language when given a chance to do so. Regional languages will make up 60% of television consumption in 2025 from around 55% in 2020 and around 50% of streaming video consumption from 30% in 2019, according to a 26 March Ficci-EY media and entertainment industry report. [India]


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