China has denied Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) request to allow screening in the country of ‘Christopher Robin’, a movie that features the honey-loving bear Winnie the Pooh, a source familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
It is unclear why the Chinese government denied the request and Chinese authorities do not provide reasons to Hollywood studios when they disallow screening of their movies, the source said.
However, the decision has revived online discussion as censors have in the past targeted the film’s main character, originally conceptualised by English author A.A. Milne, due to memes that compare the bumbling bear to President Xi Jinping.
China’s Culture Ministry declined to comment and referred questions to the State Administration of Radio and Television, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
China, the world’s second-largest film market, limits the number of foreign-made films allowed into the country to 34 a year. It typically favours action-heavy blockbusters such as ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and ‘Black Panther’, two of four Disney films that have played in China so far this year.
Disney’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, which debuted around the world in March, has not been released in China.
Netizens have in the past likened Pooh’s appearance - namely his portly stature - to President Xi. A small number of people have even used Pooh as a symbol of resistance.
Popular memes compare images of Xi and former U.S. President Barack Obama walking side-by-side to similar cartoon scenes including Pooh and his taller, leaner friend Tigger, a hyperactive tiger.
Other allusions include a popular comparison between a Winnie the Pooh car toy image and the Chinese leader presiding over a military parade from the back of a moving vehicle.
‘Can I still say Winnie the Pooh?’ posted several users on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, on Tuesday, testing censors by adding images of Xi and Pooh. The images, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, had been blanked out on the site by Wednesday.
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