Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon has faced the “China threat” head-on with a lukewarm propaganda film dramatizing the Huawei case in Canada, hoping to galvanize the American people (and president) for a second Cold War.
Claws of the Red Dragon – “inspired by real life events” – tells the tale of a stand-in for Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, her arrest in Vancouver on US orders, the retaliatory arrest of two Canadians for definitely not spying in China, and the Huawei-standin’s totally real collusion with an especially evil Chinese government. Characters include a plucky Chinese-Canadian journalist hot on the trail of those dastardly Reds, so determined to get the story that even a decapitated cat left on her car can’t intimidate her – and for a twist, she’s dating an employee of the Chinese company! Will his loyalty to his girl outweigh his loyalty to his employer?!
Never one for subtlety, Bannon is quite candid about what he wants the film to achieve. “The central issue in the 2020 presidential campaign is going to be the economic war with China,” he told Bloomberg. “Huawei is a key part of that, and this film will highlight why it must be shut down.”
The Chinese officials in the film are reliably evil – “I have a few Canadian citizens here in China we could falsely accuse of spying,” one suggests to a superior, only refraining from twirling his mustache because he doesn’t have one – and the story is familiar to anyone who has been following US media coverage of the Meng saga (though it might confuse those familiar with the actual events). In case the propaganda values aren’t obvious enough, the film’s website notes “the heroine’s adherence to her professional ethics also alludes to Canada’s judicial independence and the Canadians’ democratic values.” Because of course it was the Canadians who made the decision to arrest and prosecute Meng for Huawei’s alleged violations of US sanctions.
“One of my objectives is to get a screening for President Trump at the White House,” Bannon declared, expressing his hope that the film’s message will steel Trump’s resolve and convince him not to let up on his trade war with China even as the US slides into a recession and US companies beg him to stop cutting them off from one of their biggest markets.
Getting the film in front of the rest of the American populace is another matter – it’s scheduled to play on Canadian television next month, where it will no doubt convince a few people that their country is exercising its Judicial Independence by allowing the US to dictate who it arrests, but there is – surprisingly – no distribution deal in place for the US.
Absent any real-life evidence of the backdoors the US insists are lurking in all Huawei products, feeding innocent American data to the evil Communists, a fictional portrayal centered around the discovery of those backdoors should be catnip to US intelligence agencies that jump at the chance to insert positive coverage of themselves into Hollywood productions in the hope that the film portrait eclipses reality in moviegoers’ minds. Perhaps distribution companies are wary of alienating the Chinese market, a ravenous consumer of Hollywood films. It would certainly be ironic if Bannon’s epic succeeded in severing yet another US industry from a major revenue source.
Or perhaps distribution companies realize the film simply isn’t going to sell. “A heated political battle over which nation will rule the 5G cyber space,” as “Claws” describes its plot, doesn’t exactly drive crowds to movie theaters. Hollywood may be desperate for new film ideas, but it’s not that desperate. Judging from the trailer alone, Bannon’s propaganda opus appears to have forgotten the first rule of Hollywood propaganda – it has to be entertaining.
Earlier this year, Bannon fired up the Committee on the Present Danger, a policy group last active during the Cold War that he has reinvented – along with Frank Gaffney, the man who reportedly taught John Bolton everything he “knows” about Islam – in order to declare the fight against China “the defining event of our time.” Like the original Cold War, a “defining event” clearly needs a Hollywood presence. But the anti-Russian propaganda that characterized films like Rocky and Red Dawn wasn’t what made them box office successes – there was a good story and characters underneath the stereotypes. If people wanted to see a tiresome parade of anti-Chinese propaganda loosely based on real events, they’d just turn on the news.
Helen Buyniski is an American journalist and political commentator, working at RT since 2018
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