In Top Gun 2, Maverick depicts a Taiwanese flag patch over China’s objections, heralding the end of Hollywood bowing down to Chinese censors.
In Top Gun: Maverick, Maverick’s Taiwanese flag crest isn’t just a clue to the character’s past; it’s a sign of a major shift in the way Hollywood does business. The long-awaited sequel to Superior gun garners universal acclaim for its commitment to authenticity. At a time when rampant CGI is taking the brunt of action movies, Top Gun: Maverick abandons CGI for the physical and emotional weight of practical effects. Green screens were avoided for actual locations and cockpit camera rigs, stunt pilots for the actors themselves, stars undergoing a three-month training program devised by Tom Cruise. They even chose to leave some shots unscripted — flapping fins, camera reflections, Miles Teller banging his head on the cockpit canopy — meant to add to the film’s gritty realism.
In addition to effects and stunts, Top Gun: Maverick took care of small details that make the characters and their Navy aviation department more believable. One of those details is a Taiwanese flag patch on the back of Maverick’s leather jacket. In real life, pilot patches can mean a number of things, including deployments, aircraft flown, and career milestones. In the Superior gun cinematic universe, the Taiwanese flag patch on Maverick’s jacket is a tribute to his father, Duke Mitchell, who served on a joint mission with Taiwan during the Vietnam War. It’s an illuminating and endearing character detail, but the significance of Maverick’s Taiwanese flag patch goes beyond authenticity and cinematic world-building.
Top Gun: MaverickThe Taiwanese flag crest signals a shift in Hollywood away from appeasement by Chinese censors in exchange for funding and distribution. With a population of 1.4 billion, China is the second biggest box office on the planet. It’s also very strict about what can and cannot be shown onscreen, with sympathetic depictions of America, Christianity, and gay romance, to name a few, banned. For years, major Hollywood studios have kowtowed to China, relying on Chinese box office support and numbers to help them create bigger and better blockbusters, in return suppressing subjects that the Party Chinese Communist considers “sensitive issues”. When Paramount dropped its Top Gun: Maverick trailer in 2019, it looks like the studio is doing just that. As observers were quick to point out online, the Taiwanese flag crest on Maverick’s jacket was gone, replaced by a seemingly abstract symbol with the same color scheme. The reason was clear: the Chinese Communist Party does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, but rather as a province of China. The concession, however, was not enough. Chinese tech giant Tencent pulled funds from the film’s alleged pro-American message, and when Top Gun: Maverick was released in 2022, the fix had been reverted.
Do blockbusters still need China?
What happens next has turned Hollywood on its ear. Despite zero dollars of funding or return from China, Top Gun: Maverick broke numerous box office records, becoming Paramount’s highest-grossing film, the highest-grossing film of 2022, and the first Tom Cruise film to top $1 billion at the box office. Many factors seem to have aligned to make the film a success, including ’80s nostalgia, a Memorial Day weekend release, Tom Cruise’s star power, and an accessible story. Top Gun: Maverickhowever, is not the unicorn he appears to be.
In 2021, Spider-Man: No Coming Home refused requests from Chinese censors to remove the Statue of Liberty and also did not open in China. Still, it became the highest-grossing film of the year. Pixar Light yearreleased in the summer of 2022, refused to cut a gay kissing scene, nor was it screened in the People’s Republic. Light year disappointed at the box office, but its underperformance had more to do with the temperament of American audiences than a lack of Chinese distribution. If three is any pattern, these films seem to indicate that the summer blockbuster doesn’t need China. Of course, it’s too early to tell if movies like Top Gun: Maverick will become the norm, but it’s a step in the right direction for Hollywood and a victory for freedom of expression in the arts.
Next: Will Tom Cruise Play A Villain Again? Top Gun 2 proves it’s time
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