Monday evening, most everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood will gather at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to hear from the man who’s trying to move the center of the entertainment universe a little further east.
Wang Jianlin is China’s richest man and the founder and CEO of China’s Wanda Group, which this year alone acquired Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion and is in talks to add Dick Clark Productions for another billion. Wanda also formed an alliance with Sony Pictures last month and is on pace to spend $30 billion in deals this year — half in sports and entertainment.
After speeches by luminaries including Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at Monday’s “U.S.-Sino Business Evening,” Wang will take the stage at the museum’s Bing Theater. There, he’s expected to announce news relating to Wanda’s Hollywood ambitions — which have recently sparked some backlash in Washington.
Over the weekend, news leaked that Wanda plans to unveil a 40 percent rebate at the event — funded by the company and several Chinese regional governments — intended to lure filming to Wanda’s under-construction Qingdao Movie Metropolis, a 408-acre film studio that includes the world’s largest indoor sound stage. Wanda would become the first private entertainment company to underwrite such a rebate, which are commonly doled out by local governments wanting to grow filming.
Wang is also expected to reveal specific production commitments for several Hollywood projects at Monday’s presentation. This month, Legendary Entertainment’s “Pacific Rim 2” will become the first film to shoot at the Qingdao park.
Wanda’s boss comes to America at a pivotal time for Wanda — and China’s exploding movie industry. While the Chinese conglomerate has been increasing its footprint in Hollywood since its 2012 acquisition of AMC Theaters, Washington has begun to push back amid fears that China’s Hollywood ambitions — and notably, those of the Wanda Group — have gone too far. Several individuals close to China’s leadership have economic ties to the Wanda Group.
On Oct. 4, the Government Accountability Office agreed to a request from 16 members of Congress to review the legal powers of Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which examines national security implications of foreign transactions — a request partially sparked by Wanda’s buying spree.
The next day, the Washington Post published a strongly worded editorial saying that “China already has imposed its censorious values on Hollywood studios,” using access to its hundreds of millions of film fans as leverage, and warned that “China could seek to spread pro-regime propaganda via ownership of U.S. entertainment media.”
The day after that, Rep. Jim Culberson sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to take another look at the Foreign Agents Registration Act, specifically mentioning Wanda’s entertainment purchases and their potential to be used for “propaganda purposes.”
To a certain degree, Wang has invited this pushback with some of his bombastic proclamations, talking openly about buying a major studio and threatening to make Disney’s new Shanghai theme park unprofitable.
“We want to smash them,” Wang told CNN in September, speaking of Disney. “It’s not personal — it’s where the interest of the company lies.”
Monday night, with a who’s who of the entertainment industry in attendance — and the recent mood in D.C. — Wang might change his tone, if not his goals. Hollywood will have its popcorn ready.