Chinese director Ning Hao has fired back at Oliver Stone for criticizing Chinese filmmakers who go soft on their nation’s history, calling the American director “belligerent” and naive about risks faced by artists there. According to Ning, Chinese artists must work their way to free speech “little by little.”
The “JFK” director chastised the Chinese film community during a talk at the Beijing Film Festival last week.
“You’ve got to make a movie about Mao," Stone said. "You’ve got to make a movie about the Cultural Revolution. When you do that, you open up, you stir the waters and allow true creativity to emerge in this country. And then, that will form the basis of real co-productions. Open up your past, the way the United States has opened up its past.”
Stone also alleged that Chinese authorities had stopped him from producing several films in the nation dealing with Mao Zedong and the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
Speaking with the state-operated Global Times, Ning -- who has had one of his own films shelved by the government -- argued that the climate in China is far more delicate than Stone recognized.
“He is being belligerent. If we wanted to shoot a film about 9/11, would they be happy? Some questions or areas are sensitive. And China’s problem is not that simple,” Ning said, as translated by the Hollywood Reporter.
Stone said in Beijing that he was “on fair ground” to criticize Chinese artists for not doing their part to engage with their history because he has criticized the United States in his own films. Ning disagrees, saying that as a foreigner, Stone doesn’t have the proper insight or background to make such a broad criticism against the Chinese film industry.
“He said Chinese films need to make their direction clear. Good films and bad films can’t be all decided by foreigners. Chinese films need to get back the right of free speech little by little,” Ning continued.
Stone has not directly responded to Ning’s criticism and may have fanned the flames more with some comments made Tuesday during an interview with China’s state-run CCTV.
“If you are making movies that are critical of the United States, you have to be careful,” Stone told CCTV host Yang Rui on Tuesday. “Maybe no one will finance it.”
Chinese artists who face far greater risks than securing financing might consider Stone’s problems trivial. Ning himself has tackled topics less controversial than anything Stone has engaged, yet still found his work targeted by Chinese censors and his artistic vision compromised.
Best known for the 2006 breakout hit “Crazy Stone,” Ning finished his latest movie, the neo-Western “No Man’s Land,” in 2010, but was blocked from releasing it by the authorities. Members of China’s Film Bureau felt its bleak, nihilistic tone ran afoul of the nation’s values, the Wall Street Journal notes. Ultimately, it took Ning three years and several edits of his work to make it more palatable to the censors. “No Man’s Land” eventually opened to critical acclaim and box office success last year, but only after being altered under government pressure.
Other Chinese filmmakers have experienced even worse consequences, especially when directly challenging the political status quo. Documentarian Dhondup Wangchen, for instance, was jailed in 2008 after producing the 25-minute documentary "Leaving Fear Behind," which examined life in Tibet under Chinese rule. Though he is epxected to be released within the coming months, Wangchen is likely to suffer an array of health problems following his release after he contracted hepatitis B in prison, WAN-IFRA notes.
Stone may find it difficult to procure funding, but he hasn't had to tone down his political convictions on film, even when challenging the official government story of events as in "JFK." Chinese artists, on the other hand, don't have that luxury.