Where is the Chinese Oliver Stone?
When Oliver Stone recently rounded on mainland filmmakers for failing to make critical movies about their country and its past, he is really asking why there is no one like him in China.
From JFK to his Untold History of the United States, the director has made a brilliant and provocative film career undermining the traditional American narrative of the land of the free and home of the brave. As he puts it in Untold History, "That popular and mythic view, carefully filtered through the prism of American altruism, benevolence, magnanimity, exceptionalism, and devotion to liberty and justice ... only tells a small part of the story."
In Salvador, an early, and in my opinion, his best movie, he exposed how right-wing dictatorships in Latin America operated death squads funded and trained by the US during the Reagan years.
China has its own popular and mythic view of its past. So why aren't mainland Chinese artists and filmmakers re-examining their nation's unsavoury history and puncturing myths like Stone does with his own country? "Mao Zedong has been lionised in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticised," Stone told an audience in Beijing. "It's about time. You've got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution."
Stone is right. But his criticism is also misdirected. In the US, you can make contrarian and dissident films and make millions like Stone. In China, you get censored - if lucky - or jailed. It's simply too much to ask mainland artists to risk their lives while you lead a comfortable life in Hollywood. If Stone were mainland Chinese, would he still be the great Oliver Stone? It's highly doubtful.
Still, his criticism should not be ignored. A more relevant question to ask is why aren't filmmakers in Hong Kong and the Chinese diaspora making that kind of critical film?
Do they or don't they have a responsibility to explore the nation's dark past when they can work without the fear of persecution? Don't we all get tired of watching endless variations of The Joy Luck Club and triads? A well-made Stone-like movie about Mao's brand of totalitarianism would sell at the box office. And yes, it would be good to have a Chinese Oliver Stone.