Since last year, there has been heavy speculation about whether or not Marvel Studios' Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will make it into Chinese theaters. After months without news or official announcements, audiences finally have confirmation.
Chinese box office analyst and reporter Oliver Chen confirmed that the long-awaited Doctor Strange sequel has been officially banned. No official reason has been provided, though there are several issues attached to the film where China is concerned. It's uncertain whether or not there was one of these issues or all of them that caused the ban.
First and foremost, it should be noted that Marvel Studios has not had a film enter Chinese theaters since Spider-Man: Far From Home in 2019. Although Chinese cinemas were among the first in the world to reopen following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, few Hollywood blockbusters were allowed in, ostensibly for differing reasons. Black Widow never screened in China, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was banned, seemingly after an old interview with star Simu Liu surfaced; and Eternals was banned, seemingly because of an old interview with director Chloé Zhao surfaced. The record-setting Spider-Man: No Way Home was also never given a release date in China, though no official reason was ever provided.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness drew some heavy criticism among pro-Chinese Communist Party social media users in China, when it was shown that one of the scenes released online included brief shots of a newsrack for The Epoch Times, an anti-government newspaper. However, it is unknown if this was a contributing factor to the ban, since the film still had not been given a release date preceding the release of the clip.
Since the beginning of 2021, Chinese officials have cracked down heavily on mainstream media. While the official quota for foreign films stands at 34 per annum, the CCP-ruled government has acted to encourage nationalism and promote the values and views held by the Party. This means minimizing symbols and notions conveyed in foreign films, particularly those featured in Hollywood hits.
As one example, it was recently reported that one of the reasons state censors took issue with Spider-Man: No Way Home was because of the prominence of the Statue of Liberty, which featured heavily in the film's climactic final act. Chinese officials requested that Sony remove the figure, but the company refused to do so. It is uncertain how large of an impact this had on the film's exclusion from China.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is scheduled to hit theaters on May 6.