By Ed Diokno
AMC Entertainment Holdings has taken a giant step to becoming the world’s largest exhibitor heating up anti-Chinese sentiment by protectionist interests.
AMC, the second-largest U.S. theater chain this past week secured shareholder approval from Carmike Cinemas for a $1.2 billion merger and some AMC stock. “We are pleased with the outcome of today’s vote,” David Passman, Carmike president and CEO, said a statement following the shareholder meeting in Atlanta.
If the Department of Justice approves the buyout, by the end of the year AMC is set to leap ahead of the Regal Entertainment Group, which has 564 theaters, to become the biggest theater circuit in the U.S. and around the world. AMC’s 387 theaters would be bolstered by Carmike’s 276 outlets.
AMC was bought in 2012 by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Dalian Wanda conglomerate. That acquisition, along with other Chinese investments in Hollywood entertainment industry, raised concerns about their influence on what goes on the silver screen.
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“There is no political point of view,” Jianlin told a crowd in Los Angeles in October. “I am a businessman.”
Others in the film industry, such as Hollywood producer Janet Yang, attribute the backlash against Chinese media control to xenophobia and discomfort with China’s rising global power.
“If you grew up on John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or superhero movies, or these very powerful iconic pieces of content, that does affect what you think the world order looks like,” she says. “That’s a paradigm shift; some people can’t handle it.”
Much of the opposition is being led by Washington lobbying firm Berman and Company, which uses a network of front organizations to carry out campaigns on behalf of anonymous clients. The group is led by Rick Berman, a veteran lobbyist who 60 Minutes once called “Dr Evil”, for defense of issues such as second-hand smoke, trans-fats, tanning beds and payday loans and attacking the Humane Society, labor unions and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
One of the front organizations called “China Owns Us” put up anti-Chinese billboards in L.A., wrote opeds and met with members of Congress to warn them of the potential danger of China buying up American businesses.
“What I’m trying to do is stop somebody else from managing the culture here,” Berman says.
Berman claims credit for the letter from 16 congress members that asked the government to look into the role of a federal committee known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS), in determining whether deals such the AMC and Carmike merger weakens national security.
Berman won’t reveal who is paying him for his anti-Chinese campaign, only that his clients are wealthy and concerned about national security.
“AMC is completely run by its American management in Leawood, Kansas, as American as an American place in the heartland you can find,” says AMC’s chief executive, Adam Aron. “We’re in the business of selling movie tickets and popcorn, and we don’t involve ourselves in what goes on in China.”
Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.