By Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment and Creator of The Toxic Avenger, with Taylor Sprow
"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like an independent filmmaker scorned." --William Congreve (sort of)
Ni hau ma from Tromaville!
Fuck you, China, and the Han Dynasty horse you rode in on! You have double-crossed me!
In our vastly interconnected world of quick clicks and instant communication, thinking globally is pretty much the only option. In a second you can be connected with someone on the other side of the planet. Here at Troma, we are well aware of what it means to function on a global scale. Without our fans from all over the world, we would not have been able to survive 42 years so far in this elitist hellmouth we call the film industry.
It has been my dream for years to further spread Troma's shit-disturbing, peace-loving reach...into other parts of the world, specifically China. A lifelong interest in China's history and culture has led me to want to actually make a Troma movie there, in the Mandarin language no less. Decades have passed, though, since I first visited China and the things that have always stopped me from making a film there still hold true. In fact, I would say, things have only gotten progressively worse since then. It's not the Chinese laws or logistics that keep the Chinese Troma movie from ever being made. Instead, it's the Chinese oppression, elitism, and corruption that has long-existed in China, so the nation's failure to neither cease nor amend these obscene failures fuels my rage.
I have been fascinated by China since I was probably 9 years old. My very left of left-wing grandmother often gave me books, one of which was The Brave New World. Not to be confused with Huxley's dystopian tale, this book by Scott & Helen Nearing detailed the pair's travels throughout China and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and glorified Chairman Mao and his actions. Though misguided, the book spurred an interest in me that continued through college where I majored in Chinese Studies at Yale University (1). I spent four years studying the language, the history, the art, and culture. At this time, U.S. citizens were not allowed visit China but I took the opportunity to travel elsewhere including Taiwan. When I finally made it to China in 1979, I began to think that it was, quite possibly, a nation progressing towards a more democratic ideology and away from its oppressive past that so often maimed anything even resembling freedom or independence. To my wife and me, it appeared that there was a movement occurring to open up China and allow the voices of dissent to finally be included in the conversation. There was even a Democracy Wall located in Beijing from 1978 to 1979 where you could post anything you wanted to say. In fact, my wife and I put up a poster for our movie Squeeze Play! which immediately drew a huge crowd, including the police, so we disappeared quickly (2).
Things looked promising, however. Had I prophesized back then, I would have guessed that China would become not unlike the United States; a corrupt government would be in control, but at least its citizens would have free expression and the right to exist as individuals. I also would have been wrong. Instead, China is owned and controlled by a small group of elites alongside its President and Prime Minister, and is progressing towards an extreme form of elite fascism, reminiscent of Franco's Spain.
The current atrocities committed at the hands of the Chinese government are unacceptable and I find myself unable to look past them for the sake of my dream: "Troma Does China" experience. While some of the atrocities hurt Troma directly and work to destroy independent art, others are flat out lethal assaults against humanity. We're talking murder, folks. We're talking the annihilation of communities (3). For example, look at the experience of the Uighur people. The Uighurs are a peaceful Muslim community living mostly in China's Western Xinjiang region. These are honorable people who have never done anything except desire their religious freedom. Yet those in Chinese power see them as a threat. The Chinese government is doing their best to exterminate the Uighur people. Used as a scapegoat for various acts of discord and violence, the Uighur people have suffered discrimination, persecution, and violent attacks at the hands of China's racist government.
One of my daughters, Lisbeth (founder of KitSplit.com), inherited my interest in China and also majored in Chinese Studies at Yale. She now speaks and reads Mandarin Chinese fluently and recently had the chance to revisit China, where she traveled to the Xinjiang province and witnessed the Uighur people's struggles first hand. She saw the deadly effects of the government's unyielding control and how this innocent minority community is being religiously persecuted, economically deprived, and basically killed off. My daughter's disenchantment with China did not stop there. She experienced first hand the warped tactics of an unchecked, elitist regime. In Tiananmen Square, the police stopped and questioned Lisbeth for simply standing out as a foreign tourist. They made her delete the photographs she had taken and forced her to sign a type of confession form. She was so intimidated by them that she did not let on that she knew the Chinese language out of fear of being "taken downtown".
China has further disappointed me, personally, by continuing to prove how little regard it has for international agreements and diplomacy. I need to take a moment to make sure this next point is made LOUD and CLEAR -- I do not like Donald Trump. I do not respect Donald Trump. I think he is a foolish and dangerous little man with a little penis. But I have to, very unfortunately, agree with him on one thing. That is, that China is walking all over the United States and various other countries. Despite previously established agreements, China has invaded the South China sea, taking over territory rightfully belonging to other Asia-Pacific nations. Rather than doing anything to curtail or remedy these situations, the United States, not surprisingly, is kowtowing to them because our big business wants to keep up trade with China.
The United States' inability to confront China over its injustices goes further, flooding down into different industries. For example, the American media conglomerates compromise artistic intentions in their desire for good business relations. China's government permits about 30 big budget "Tentpole" American movies to gain access to the Chinese theatrical market. Entry into this market is exclusive, limited to the chosen few. China requires these American media conglomerates to censor themselves--changing scripts, cutting scenes, changing the art, changing the intentions of the writers, the directors, the actors-- to suit the oligarchs who are running the Chinese government and owning and controlling the business markets. Similarly, in the lead up to World War II, Hollywood movie studios behaved the same way. They kowtowed to Hitler's Germany (4). They censored their films accordingly, allowing Hitler to change the substance of art to support the Nazi agenda (5).
Due to the media conglomerates' tight hold on the few slots open to American pictures in the Chinese theatrical market, true American independent film has no chance of getting substantial distribution over there. The level of control that the powerful Chinese elite have over the film industry is unsettling but it does not stop there. The political and economic decisions made by these elites contribute to the Chinese practice of bootlegging. Not just that, but those corrupt government, military and business officials own and or control the factories that produce these bootlegged DVDs. They own and or control the streaming services that pirate and illegally sell our movies. Then after all is said and done, Troma and indie filmmakers are not seeing any of the money earned from these sales. Maybe if the illegal proceeds were going to the little people of China this might be ok in a "Robin Hood" sort of manner, but China's bootlegging profits are sent to an offshore bank faster than you can say "Panama Papers". Absolutely no good comes from these acts of theft of independent art.
I must give credit where credit is due, however, and call attention to the Chinese for the great efficiency for which they are world famous. Before we had even transferred our 2007 film Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead from 35mm to digital formats, a bootleg DVD version complete with a beautifully designed DVD case and elegant title menu was being sold on the streets and in the stores of China (6). Regardless of how great the Chinese DVD looked, it does not even come close to mending the ruin has been done (7). I do not mind one bit if a bunch of sweaty, pimply teenagers are downloading our movies in their parent's basement and sharing them with their friends. I am all for file sharing. Art is, by definition, is created to be shared, but when a beefy Chinese general is making a fortune for himself from independent art by selling our DVDs or streaming our films illegally to 3 billion people and then not giving one red ren min bi to us artists and rights owners, it's an international disgrace (8).
The Chinese DVD bootleg cover of "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead".
The non-bootleg, official Troma DVD and Blu-Ray are available at www.tromashop.com
China's failure to develop into a more progressive and democratic country has disappointed me as an artist and a human being. If I sound a little bitter that is because I am. I had truly intended to make a movie in China, spending our American Troma dollars in the Chinese economy at some point in my life before heading off to that great Chinese take-out restaurant in the sky. Now I am really unsure. I feel like a jilted lover, a woman scorned. I have spoken out about this before, once while presenting on-stage at the 2014 Chinese American Film Festival in Pasadena, CA. Before presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award, I took the opportunity at hand to make an impromptu speech, in Chinese, about China's treatment of American independent filmmakers. Though I assumed I had pissed off everyone involved, I was surprised to be invited back the following year, which gives me hope that this conversation is not a lost cause (9).
The main takeaway for me from my experience with Chinese Studies at Yale was Taoism. Lao-tzu pictured a dualistic universe, one in which you cannot have good without evil, where they're intricately associated; the oyster gets a piece of sand stuck in its asshole and it hurts like hell but she produces a beautiful pearl! I believe in that very much...or at least I used to. My belief in a dualistic universe has been shaken as I have come to learn the truth about China. How can you apply a dualistic philosophy to a place that seems to be moving only in the direction of evil?
At this point, I am considering never returning to China again. But what do you readers think? In other words, do you think it would be better to make a statement by never returning to China in protest of its ongoing oppressive tactics or would it be better if I did go back to make a movie, talk to young people about freedom of expression, and do what little I can to make a difference (10)? Be sure to let me know your thoughts on the matter!
Tune in next week when President Toxie, Secratary of Defense Double Dementia, and Vice President Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD elaborate further on this matter with a special Oval Office Address. Sye Sye!
1. As well as a tsunami of take out Sze Chauan tofu and cold sesame noodles over the years.
2. Troma's Squeeze Play! (1976), like all our movies, can be bought pirated all over The Middle Kingdom.
3. We all know what China has done to exterminate Tibet and its citizens.
4. Or whatever the German word for "ass kissing" might be.
5. The only studio that didn't cower to Hitler was Universal. The studio was initially owned and operated by Carl Laemmle and his son, Carl Jr., before they were ousted. Prior to this, though, they had refused to censor their art. The Laemmle family still owns a chain of movie theaters in the Los Angeles area and, coincidentally, it is the only company in the area that will show the films I direct. Most recently they showed Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1.
6. Speaking of Chinese efficiency: you can see how China got the Olympics... also how they have efficiently and purposely sent us poisonous dog and baby food (#IRONY).
7. The Chinese bootleg, pirate version of the Poltrygeist DVD was much more elaborate than the DVD Troma eventually released in the US. Click here for my video about China's theft of my Fowl Movement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pznRsylgkzU
8. In fact, Troma is sharing about 300 of its movies, shorts and my filmmaking lessons for free right now on The Troma Movies YouTube Channel (www.youtube.com/tromamovies).
9. Here is the short video of my calling out China in Chinese: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jazqe5oh9MA
10. I have been elected Vice President of The Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA) and will hopefully get the Board of our important, influential trade association to speak out harshly and take action directly against China's government.
About Lloyd Kaufman
Lloyd Kaufman is co-founder, with Yale friend Michael Herz, of the 42-year-old legendary Troma Entertainment, which is arguably the longest running independent movie studio in North America. He directed many of their feature films, including the world famous 'The Toxic Avenger', 'Class of Nuke 'Em High', 'Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD', 'Tromeo & Juliet', and 'Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead'. Kaufman has written six books on filmmaking and has presented his "Make Your Own Damn Movie" master classes globally from Oxford University to Singapore. His latest film, 'Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1', produced in association with STARZ, premiered in The Contenders series at New York's Museum of Modern Art along with movies by the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen. Kaufman is currently editing 'Return to Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 2' and preparing 'The Toxic Avenger Part 5: Grime & Punishment' 'The Tempest'. In 2008, 'The Toxic Avenger' was turned into a musical by Joe DiePietro and David Bryant of Bon Jovi, which ran in NYC for a year and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical. 'The Toxic Avenger' Musical is currently available for licensing through Music Theatre International (MTI). To thank Troma fans for over 40 years of support, Kaufman and Michael Herz offer over 250 free feature length movies, cartoons, and new daily content on The Troma Movies YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/Tromamovies