Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.C36 S66 2004
In the chapter entitled “Regulating National Markets: Chinese," Smoodin discusses how Bitter Tea’s financially disappointing box-office reception was not so much a consequence of insufficient interest or appreciation by audiences, but rather, the result of difficulty in passing foreign government censors and officials. He notes that Capra’s film received no serious objections from domestic censors, but encountered a great deal of controversy abroad. The movie was censored in the British Commonwealth due to the representation of “racial mixing,” but it faced even greater resistance from the Chinese government, despite extensive negotiations and compromises on the part of Columbia studios to ameliorate the situation. Global distribution of Bitter Tea was made even more difficult when Chinese censors threatened to refuse all future dealings with Columbia and Paramount unless the film was completely withdrawn from the global market. Scenes were removed and a prologue was added, but ultimately, the censors in China, by lobbying against the film in other countries like the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, Manila and Calcutta, managed to slow down distribution considerably.
Though the Chinese market represents a very small pie-slice of income generated by foreign distribution of Hollywood films, Smoodin’s article demonstrates how film production could be adversely affected overall by the potential for controversy in even one country. What may seem inoffensive to American audiences and censors could be outrageously inappropriate by the standards of government regulation in foreign countries. The mere suggestion of controversy could dissuade other countries from showing a film, as was the case with Bitter Tea in Japan and Cuba. Smoodin’s article clearly demonstrates the inconvenience such controversy created, and explains why studios felt the need to institute more well-regulated and standardized censorship as a means of deflecting these possible disturbances.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.M57 C38 2005
Susan Courtney’s third chapter, “Coming to Terms with the Production Code," examines how miscegenation was regarded by censors during the pre-code years and attempts to trace the exact origins of the “miscegenation clause” included in the Production Code of 1930. Courtney notes that the clause’s exact wording -- “Miscegenation (sex relationships between white and black races) is forbidden” – originally appeared in the “Don’ts and Be Carefuls” of 1927, and remained relatively un-amended until the code as a whole was gradually abandoned in the 1950s. Courtney posits that there was no single source that led to the inclusion of the miscegenation clause (in other words, there was no specific individual or demographic that found miscegenation particularly objectionable); rather, the clause emerged out of consultations conducted by the Hays Office with local or state censor boards across the country, suggesting a more widespread cultural aversion to the inclusion of interracial mixing in film.
In regards to Bitter Tea, this book supplies a significant contextual understanding of how the interracial themes pivotal to the film’s plot would have been received by censors and audiences alike. Courtney notes that the actual enforcement of the miscegenation clause was very unclear, explaining how a film like Bitter Tea could have easily passed muster with American censors. Because the miscegenation clause only makes mention of “blacks and whites," films involving Asian-American interactions were to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Several movies, including “Congai” and “Shanghai Gesture", were never produced because of the inclusion of Asian-American miscegenation, whereas other films seemed to be judged according to a qualified version of the clause that would permit such relations so long as their interactions were limited to “fantasies and identities."
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.62 .D65 1999
In Pre-Code Hollywood, Doherty reviews the production of film during the years preceding the rigorous enforcement of the Production Code in the 1930s. Chapter ten focuses specifically on the portrayal of foreign or racial minorities, specifically with regard to those topics that relate to the touchy subject of racial mixing, or miscegenation. In one particularly relevant subsection of the chapter, Doherty analyzes pre-Code Orientalism in film, and the exotic allure surrounding the mysterious “otherness” of countries like China. The chapter also gives a detailed account of the way the film was received by internal censors at the Studio Relations Committee, a branch of the MPPDA. Interestingly, censors were less preoccupied with the suggestion of inter-racial romance than they were with the seemingly negative portrayal of Chinese culture in Capra’s film. Ultimately, however, censors actually supported the film’s alleged purpose. Doherty appends to the chapter a letter written by John Wilson (of the SRC) to Will Hays (head of the MPPDA) in defense of the film’s seemingly racist elements, in which Wilson assures Hays that “the whole purpose of the story is the convincing refutation of the foreign opinion of the Chinese characters, and for that reason it is essential that the seeming derogatory remarks be used in the first part of the story.”
This chapter sheds light on the political climate of film-production around the time that Capra was making Bitter Tea. It was interesting to learn that Capra’s film was one of many films of the 1930’s that demonstrate a Western ambivalence towards Eastern culture, such as The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) and The Hatchet Man (1932). These mixed feelings about the East are indeed mirrored by the simultaneous attraction and repulsion experienced by the white missionary character, Megan Davis, towards the attractive and mysterious General Yen. Because of a precedence for this theme in films, it seems unlikely that Bitter Tea’s lack of success was wholly a result of audiences being unexposed to depictions of Eastern cultures in movies, unless the film somehow deviated in a significant way from these other orientalist films.