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Don’t Keep Hollywood from Helping DoD Fight the CCP Propaganda Machine

Thought Leader: Robert O’Brien
October 13, 2022

For decades, the U.S. military has cooperated with filmmakers working on movies and shows featuring military themes and equipment. Without this partnership, powerful films telling the American story and honoring the bravery and sacrifice of U.S. servicemembers like Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down could not have been made.

But some in Washington would undermine this important national tool in an otherwise admirable effort to eliminate Chinese Communist propaganda and censorship from Hollywood. The defense authorization bill now pending in Congress contains proposed changes to the DOD’s partnership with film makers that would almost completely outlaw cooperation on any movie that might seek release in China.

We should be working to tell more stories showcasing American values and strength, especially those focusing on our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardsmen. Proposals that would hinder films celebrating America’s military from being shown in China would be an unintended “own goal” in our competition with the Communist Party.

Allowing the Defense Department to support U.S. film productions ensures American films accurately depict our military capabilities and values. It gives our armed forces a powerful tool to put their best foot forward in the public square.

DOD involvement in film projects also protects against the inadvertent release of classified or sensitive information, especially when scriptwriters or directors have served in the military or intelligence services and want fast clearance on what information or techniques from their past service can be made public.

Done right, these partnerships can produce incredibly powerful work, shining a spotlight on America’s legacy of sacrifice and heroism around the world and helping bridge the growing military/civilian divide in a world where fewer and fewer people have served themselves or have a family member in uniform.

Such films can also boost recruiting – sorely needed in an era where personnel goals are harder and harder to meet. After the first Top Gun movie, Navy recruiting reportedly jumped 500%, making it one of the most successful DoD/filmmaker collaborations in history.

Concerns about the CCP’s propaganda machine are real and I have spoken about them at length. But instead of risking ending the relationship between the DOD and Hollywood, we should take the fight directly to the CCP.

Trade authorities should be used to open up their market to free trade in films and shows. Today, China’s government sets arbitrary limits on the number of foreign films allowed to enter the country and then deliberately cripples profits by depressing ticket revenues and limiting release dates, among other anti-market practices — all unreasonable and anticompetitive barriers our government should fight to end.

All relevant immigration authorities should be used to bar entry to or remove from the United States any Chinese national or foreign agent that seeks to insert CCP propaganda or censor any film produced in the United States on behalf of any Chinese entity. Further, all appropriate U.S. sanctions should be imposed on such individuals and their entities given the malicious nature of the harm they cause by extending CCP censorship beyond China’s borders and into America.

These and other targeted approaches to CCP propaganda and censorship programs are a better approach to the problem than a wholesale change to what has been a successful collaboration between the DOD and Hollywood.

Conservatives, together with some courageous film industry liberals, have led the charge on this issue in recent years and it has worked. High-profile films like Top Gun: Maverick and Spider-Man: No Way Home refused to make changes to satisfy the Chinese Communist machine and have had incredible box office success as a result.

To win the competition with the CCP and its allies in Moscow, Tehran and other autocratic states, America must use every tool in its kit – diplomatic, economic, military and, the important but underrated tool, cultural.

Let’s end the CCP’s propaganda and censorship efforts once and for all. But let’s do so in a manner that does not undercut our military’s ability to tell stories showing its prowess and values through great films.

Robert C. O’Brien served as the 27th United States National Security Advisor from 2019-2021.

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