China's 'Friends' complain about censorship following the removal of the LGBTQ plotline

Benjamin Zhao, 22-year-old student from Hong Kong, said, "The edit out is so overthe top, and it's not worth watching anymore."

China's 'Friends' complain about censorship following the removal of the LGBTQ plotline

HONG KONG -- Chinese TV viewers of the sitcom "Friends have complained of censorship after they noticed changes in the show's new release in mainland China. This included the removal of an LGBTQ storyline.

They pointed out that the show has been missing dialogue and scenes that relate to Ross's ex-wife Carol, who is a lesbian. Ross discovers that Carol is pregnant in the first episode and plans to have the child with Susan, her female partner.

The popularity of "Friends" is huge in China. It has helped several generations understand the United States and many people learn English. The original season, which aired on NBC from 1994 to 2004, was re-released by major Chinese streaming platforms, including Tencent, Baidu’s iQiyi and Alibaba’s Youku.

Fans complained that subtitles were changed to avoid sexual innuendo and that certain cuts made it difficult for the plot to flow.



 

Benjamin Zhao, 22-year-old student from Hong Kong, said, "The edit out is so overthe top, and it's not worth watching anymore."

The hashtag #FriendsCensored, China's equivalent of Twitter, was the top-trending topic on Weibo by Friday night. One user commented on Weibo, earning thousands of likes. He said that if the censors made such drastic edits, there was no reason to broadcast it domestically.

Backlash appears to have been censored. However, the hashtag has been removed from search results.

Some viewers suggested that viewers should not watch the censored show. They shared pirated copies from Sohu Video which was the first Chinese platform to get a broadcast license for Friends and aired it unretouched from 2012 to 2018.

Tencent and iQiyi didn't return phone calls. Representatives from Bilibili and Youku could not reach them for comment.

China's President Xi Jinping has increased censorship for both domestic and international entertainment. The broadcast regulator issued guidelines in 2016 prohibiting "vulgar and immoral content" on screens. It said it included adultery, homosexuality, smoking, and suggestive clothing. Officials announced a ban for "effeminate men last year.

While younger Chinese tend to be more liberal than their elders, China has a long history cultural conservatism and still bans sexual content. Xiang Siyu (24), a fan of "Friends", says the show gave her a way to express herself.

"Friends" has been a favorite show of Xiang since 2011, when she first affirmed her sexual identity as a lesbian. "The storyline of Carol & Susan served as an encyclopedia for me, when there was no information on LGBTQ in China. They helped me to see that my sexual orientation was not unusual."

Members of the LGBTQ community in China claim they face greater restrictions and censorship, even though homosexuality isn't considered a crime. WeChat has shut down dozens of groups and Shanghai Pride events are no more being held. A major LGBTQ advocacy group in China declared that it was suspending all activities.

Xiang stated that Carol's sexual identity was being buried on "Friends", which is a missed opportunity for understanding and tolerance.

She said that it might not matter to a normal viewer that a lesbian character has been removed, as she is not the main characters. "But I believe that by creating a lesbian character with connections to main characters, Friends wants us to know that such people exist." She might be just one of your friends."

It was not the first time that the show had been subject to Chinese censorship. Last May, a reunion special of "Friends" was streamed live on Chinese platforms. It was missing scenes featuring Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, as well as the South Korean boy band BTS. All three have been banned by Chinese authorities.

Tencent Video uploaded last month a version of 1999 film "Fight Club". It changed the ending to show police foiling protagonist's anarchist plot. However, the original ending was restored later.


 

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