September 30, 2022

Mystery Surrounds Withdrawal of ‘Django Unchained’ in China

HONG KONG — The American film “Django Unchained” was abruptly pulled from theaters in China on Thursday, its opening day, a surprising move that underscored the fragility of Hollywood’s evolving relationship with the Chinese movie industry.

No official reason was given for the decision to suspend “Django Unchained,” which was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and won two Oscars in February. But there was talk among some people in the industry that brief nudity in one or two scenes had offended Chinese officials. The move comes after some scenes were reported to have already been edited to conform with the wishes of Chinese censors.

Workers at Beijing theaters said the film, which tells a bloody revenge story set in America’s pre-Civil War South, had been pulled because of unspecified technical problems.

But Mr. Tarantino’s representatives and financial backers in Los Angeles and New York on Thursday were still scrambling to learn what had gone wrong, and looking for a way to reopen their movie in what has become the world’s second-largest film market, after the United States. An industry insider said Friday that the film and not been banned, and there was still a chance it could be shown officially in mainland China. American film studios are seeking increased access to the vast new audience in China as a way to shore up their business, but have often been frustrated by Chinese laws, customs and tastes.

“We regret that ‘Django Unchained’ has been removed from theaters and are working with the Chinese authorities to determine whether the film can be rescheduled,” Steve Elzer, a spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment, which released the film, said in a statement. Mr. Elzer declined to discuss possible reasons for the cancellation.

“Django Unchained” was to have made its debut after weeks of heavy promotion. News reports have said that some of the film’s graphic violence was edited to make it acceptable to state censors, including altering the color of fake blood in violent scenes and limiting how far the blood splattered.

Such revisions are becoming increasingly common before American films are shown in China, with American filmmakers adhering to the demands of Chinese censors.

Sony’s indication that “Django Unchained” may be rescheduled suggested some relatively narrow problem, rather than broad objections to the movie’s celebration of rebellion.

The film focuses on a slave, Django, and a bounty hunter who try to outsmart a particularly brutal slave owner. It was released last year in the United States, and pirated DVD’s of that version have been on sale in shops on the mainland for weeks or months.

Before the film’s planned opening, the Chinese media quoted a Sony Pictures official who described the changes made to appease censors and suggested that Mr. Tarantino had played a role in the changes.

“What we call bloodshed and violence is just a means of serving the purpose of the film, and these slight adjustments will not affect the basic quality of the film — such as turning the blood to a darker color, or lowering the height of the splatter of blood,” Zhang Miao, director of Sony Pictures’ Chinese branch, told Southern Metropolis Daily. “Quentin knew how to adjust that, and it’s necessary that he is the one to do it. You can give him suggestions, but it must be him.”

Mr. Tarantino, whose films are known for their no-holds-barred depictions of gory violence, has not commented on reports that he toned the film down for Chinese censors.

His agents at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment declined on Thursday to discuss the film’s withdrawal.

Chinese media and film blogs were filled with speculation that the movie had been withdrawn because state censors somehow missed a brief scene with nudity. Some industry insiders have also discussed that possibility. If that turns out to be the case, then it would be surprising, given the careful vetting the film is said to have undergone before it was approved for release.

The longest scene with nudity in the film is one in which a naked Django, played by Jamie Foxx, is tied up and about to be castrated. There is also a shorter scene in which the main female character, Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, is dragged naked from an underground chamber.

Whatever the reason for the film’s withdrawal, the last-minute nature of the decision was surprising. Potential problems with Chinese censors are usually identified and addressed long before the film’s opening.

“Django Unchained” is the first of Mr. Tarantino’s violent movies to be cleared for distribution in Chinese theaters, though parts of his “Kill Bill” movies were filmed in Beijing.

Its sudden disappearance from theaters across the country prompted consternation even among some of the Chinese government’s staunchest defenders.

Gerry Mullany reported from Hong Kong and Michael Cieply from New York. Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Edward Wong contributed reporting from Berkeley, Calif. Amy Qin and Sue-Lin Wong contributed research from Beijing.

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DealBook: Greece Inches Toward a Deal With Its Bondholders

Charles Dallara, managing director of the Institute of International Finance, is representing private-sector bondholders in talks with Greece.Hannelore Foerster/Bloomberg NewsCharles Dallara, managing director of the Institute of International Finance, is representing private-sector bondholders in talks with Greece.

LONDON — Greece and its private-sector creditors inched closer to a completed deal late Thursday over how much of a loss investors should take on just over 200 billion euros in Greek government bonds

The long-running — and at times contentious talks — resumed in Athens on Wednesday between Charles Dallara of the Institute of International Finance, who represents bondholders, and the Greek political leadership, after having broken up last week because of a disagreement over the coupon rates the new Greek bonds would carry.

Now, a compromise seems to be at hand, with the Greeks close to locking in an interest rate just below 4 percent on the new bonds, according to officials involved in the negotiations. A coupon below 4 percent represents a significant breakthrough for Greece, as creditors have long pushed for a rate above 4 percent, which they say would compensate them for the 50 percent haircut they would receive on their new securities.

A lower rate, creditors have argued, would punish investors too much and could not be described as voluntary, thus setting off credit default swaps on Greek debt — an outcome that Europe fears would lead to another round of market assaults on the debt of other vulnerable countries like Portugal.

Pressured by its financial backers, Germany and the International Monetary Fund, Greece has advocated a lower rate, which would deliver more relief to the debt strapped country.

In a concession to creditors, the coupon is expected to escalate beyond 4 percent over time, linked to the growth of the Greek economy. With the economy expected to shrink by 6 percent this year and perhaps 3 percent next year, it could be a few years before the interest rates see any significant rise.

The Institute of International Finance said in a brief statement that “productive” discussions were held with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos, progress was made and the talks would continue on Friday. No other details were offered.

A debt restructuring agreement is a precondition for Greece to receive its next tranche of aid from Europe and the I.M.F., a 30 billion euro sum that the country desperately needs to stave of bankruptcy.

The deal is also expected to shave 100 billion euros from Greece’s debt mountain, which today is about 140 percent of its gross domestic product.

While the talks in Athens on Friday could well collapse again, bankers and government officials believe that the details of the new agreement could be announced in the coming days.

Assuming all goes according to plan, investors would be offered the opportunity to exchange their old bonds for new ones carrying the agreed-upon terms in early to mid-February.

Bankers say that the creditors believe 50 to 60 percent of private sector bond holders might accept the proposal — although such a range remains a very rough estimate. The challenge for Greece and the creditor group is to persuade investors on the fence to join in the deal in order to reach a figure of about 75 percent.

With a 75 percent participation rate, Greece could well be in a position to take advantage of the collective-action clauses that are set to be attached to the Greek law bonds, forcing the terms of the agreement on all bondholders. That includes hedge funds that have said they are not going to participate in the transaction, thus preventing free riders from getting paid in full in March when Greece must pay 14.4 billion euros to bond investors.

Bankers estimate that hard-core holdouts comprise about 10 percent of the 206 billion euros that would be covered by the deal. Some of these hedge funds are looking to purse legal action against Greece, although it is unclear how many will actually follow through given the time and expense involved.

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DealBook: Venture Capital Fundraising Tumbles in Third Quarter

With the market for initial public offerings still on ice and dark clouds looming over the United States economy, the venture capital industry is struggling to raise money.

Venture capital firms raised $1.72 billion in the third quarter, the lowest level since 2003, according to a report released on Monday by Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association. The amount also represented a 53 percent plunge from the period a year earlier. In all, 52 firms managed to raise money in the quarter, a 4 percent decrease.

The industry started the year on a strong note amid soaring enthusiasm for fast-rising Internet companies like Facebook and Groupon. Several major firms, which managed to get shares in these companies early, were able to parlay their success into big fund-raising rounds. Accel, for instance, one of Facebook’s earliest backers, announced in June that it had closed two funds, totaling $1.35 billion in new capital.

But recent market volatility has started to wear on the industry. Venture-backed companies, including Groupon, have delayed their public offerings. In the third quarter, just five venture-backed companies went public. Valuations, meanwhile, have started to tighten across the board, according to analysts.

“The quarter’s low fund-raising numbers are reflective of ongoing challenges within the venture capital exit markets,” Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, said in a statement. “Until we begin to see a steady and sustainable flow of quality I.P.O.’s which return cash, limited partners will remain on the sidelines, and the venture industry will continue to contract.”

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Dodd-Frank Backers Clash With Regulator

“I might have titled these remarks, ‘Beware of the Pendulum,’ ” he said. “To put it plainly, my view is that we are in danger of trying to squeeze too much risk and complexity out of banking.”

What made the speech unusual was that Mr. Walsh is a federal regulator. In fact, he is responsible for overseeing most of the nation’s large banks. And as the text of his remarks ricocheted across the electronic landscape of official Washington, it drew a furious reaction from advocates of increased regulation, who called on the White House to replace him.

The uproar brought into public view the increasingly contentious relationship between the authors and supporters of the Dodd-Frank Act, the law passed last year to overhaul financial regulation, and Mr. Walsh, the acting comptroller of the currency, a crucial player in the work of translating the law into practice.

His agency is seeking to soften a wide range of provisions, in areas ranging from the bread-and-butter of consumer protection to the esoteric details of how much money banks can borrow. Democrats and consumer advocates are particularly infuriated because Mr. Walsh, who stepped in as acting director in August, could be replaced by the White House at any time.

“The O.C.C. is acting as if there was never a financial crisis,” said Dennis Kelleher, president of Better Markets, a nonprofit group that advocates for increased regulation of the financial industry. “It’s just an utterly indefensible abdication of its responsibility to the American people.”

Mr. Walsh said in a recent interview that he was bewildered by the anger of his critics. He said that the financial crisis revealed clear problems that his agency was working to fix, but that it wanted to protect at the same time the viability and vigor of the banking industry. The disputes with other parts of the government are not questions of which way to go, but how far.

“I think we’re in a moment in time where if you say anything that suggests you see merit in an argument that is supported by bankers, that you’re somehow selling out your public office or something,” Mr. Walsh said. “And I just don’t agree with that.”

Mr. Walsh, who joined the agency in 2005 and served as chief of staff, took over in August when John Dugan, a Bush appointee, completed his five-year term. Almost a year later, his office in Southwest Washington remains lightly decorated; the distinctive feature is a looking glass pointed toward the Capitol.

Last month, the president nominated Thomas J. Curry, a member of the board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to head the agency. He will appear Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee, but there is no assurance that Republicans will permit a vote.

The most visible battle concerns the agency’s power to exempt banks chartered by the federal government — a category that includes most large banks — from compliance with a hodge-podge of state banking laws.

The Dodd-Frank Act includes language meant to limit this power and to require a review of past exemptions. Earlier this year, however, the agency said the law did not compel any change in its policies. The Treasury Department protested that that ignored the law’s plain meaning. But on Wednesday, the comptroller’s office said that it stood by all of its previous decisions.

The stand is strongly supported by the banking industry, and by many members of Congress, who argue that the efficiency of a single rulebook is fair and results in lower prices for customers.

Advocates of state regulation, however, are girding for a court battle.

“It’s really hard for me to think how much clearer Congress could have been,” said Arthur E. Wilmarth Jr., a professor of financial law at George Washington University. He said the agency was behaving like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, who memorably declared, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

The agency also faces criticism over continuing revelations that banks under its supervision have routinely failed to follow the legalities of the foreclosure process. When it announced that it would require banks to conduct comprehensive reviews, and to pay compensation for any problems that were found, critics questioned its competence and sincerity.

“Banks will face penalties,” Mr. Walsh said. ”To do this right will take some time. But if the process is going to be credible and people are going to be able to believe that we can deal with it fairly, we’re going to have to take the time to do the work right.”

In the meantime, the agency is juggling 85 projects dictated by Dodd-Frank. And its greatest impact is likely to unfold far from public view, in the closed-door meetings and long, dense legal opinions where regulations are built and tuned.

In one typical example, the agency is pressing other regulators to accept an inclusive definition of the word “customer.” The Volcker Rule, written into the Dodd-Frank law to limit banks from pursuing their own investments, allows banks to create hedge funds and private equity funds so long as they are quickly marketed and sold to customers. The authors and proponents of the rule want regulators to define the term as narrowly as possible, limiting the opportunity for banks to create products and then identify a willing buyer after the fact. The comptroller’s office, however, has suggested using the expansive definition of a customer found in the Patriot Act.

The agency’s positions reflect its view that banks should be permitted to engage in a broad range of activities, for their own health and for the benefit of the broader economy. Over the years, the agency gradually eased restrictions to allow the rise of behemoths like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, and now it is defending those expansive boundaries.

Mr. Walsh said his greatest concern was for the unintended consequences of imposing so many new rules so quickly, which he compared to the danger of mixing medications.

“I’m arguing that erring on the side of caution is to be cautious about how far we go,” he said. “And for a lot of other people erring on the side of caution is, ‘The more armor plate we put on these ships the better, because we never want them to sink again.’ ”

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