Ever wonder why Hollywood just seems to keep churning out CGI-laden reboots with recycled plots and forgettable characters, seemingly in order to win over the Chinese box office? Perhaps former Vice President Joe Biden is to blame.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the former vice president was an instrumental player in opening up Hollywood to Chinese moviegoers, paving the way for the modern filmmaking wasteland.
“When then-Vice President Joe Biden hosted Chinese leader Xi Jinping for a five-day diplomatic blitz in 2012, a Hollywood Democratic mega-donor kept popping up with them,” reports the Times. “There was Jeffrey Katzenberg, then the head of DreamWorks Animation, dining alongside Xi, the then-vice president of China, at a State Department welcome lunch in Washington.”
“On the final day of Xi’s visit, Dreamworks announced Xi had signed off on the company’s own deal — the launching of Oriental DreamWorks, a $330-million joint venture with Chinese companies to develop and distribute animated films in China,” the report continued.
The report paints the Obama administration as being knee-deep in Hollywood money, a relationship that Joe Biden seems poised to repeat, given his latest round of fundraisers. This past May, Jeffrey Katzenberg hosted Biden at an event that scored $700,000 in one night for the 2020 hopeful. Former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who led the Motion Picture Association of America during the Obama years, hailed the former vice president as being a “champion” of Hollywood inside the White House.
“Joe was our champion inside the White House,” said Dodd. “There is no question about it. Even before Joe Biden decided to run, I would get calls and have conversation with the major studio figures, with them saying, ‘You tell Vice President Biden 100% we want him to run.’ This wasn’t waiting around to see who would do well in polls. During some very tough days, he was one of the few people who stood up and believed they had a legitimate case.”
Aynne Kokas, author of the book “Hollywood Made in China,” said that Katzenberg raising millions of dollars for the Obama 2012 ticket undoubtedly influenced the White House’s support for Hollywood’s China focus. Biden’s campaign press secretary, T.J. Ducklo, disputed this characterization in a statement to the Times.
“Protecting American intellectual property, opening new markets and ensuring better labor standards around the world is the job of any American administration,” said Ducklo. “Vice President Biden has always been a fierce advocate for American industry throughout his career, including the film and television industry, which is one of our country’s major exports. The suggestion that his leadership on these issues was motivated by anything other than promoting good policy is ludicrous.”
Andy Spahn, a political advisor to Jeffrey Katzenberg, called it “pure fantasy” to suggest that the Dreamworks co-founder was buying access. “This is pure fantasy,” he said. “Jeffrey Katzenberg is supporting multiple candidates in the Democratic presidential primaries, and his politics have never been influenced by business interests.”
Diplomats familiar with commercial negotiations have come to Katzenberg’s defense, arguing that it’s not uncommon for top-level business executives to be present when a foreign leader visits.
“It is very common for top CEOs of an industry to piggyback on the visit of a foreign leader if their issue is hot,” said Daniel Russel, who served as the president’s special assistant on East Asia at the time of the Xi Jinping visit. “If they are in big negotiations, they want to cozy up to the foreign leader. They want to signal their respect. They want to work the room, work the margins.”
“In dealing with the Chinese, there are precious few points of leverage,” Russel continued. “Ensuring the Chinese leader has a successful trip is one of the critical crowbars an American policymaker has to try to open a closed door.”
For 2020, Katzenberg has donated $2,800 to 14 presidential candidates — indicating that he has not yet committed to anyone.