Alas, my dear readers, I cannot do a review this week. I'm still busy getting settled into my new life at New York University Tisch.
But I don't want to leave you all empty handed two weeks in a row. So...I have a story to share.
This is a TRUE STORY.
I live in a suite right on the corner of Washington Square in New York City. As such, I have a roommate. This roommate is a young computer programmer from Southern China. I won't mention his name because he hasn't given me permission to do so online. Anyhow, for the last few days, I've been trying to establish some common ground with my new roommate. However, due to the language barrier, this has been difficult.
But tonight I made a breakthrough.
It turns out that he loves movies, too. He discovered this blog when he was researching me after we were assigned the same room. He remarked that he was astonished that I had written about Jiang Wen's film Devils on the Doorstep. He was amazed because that film is banned in China.
He asked me how I saw the film. I answered that I had seen it on Netflix. He had never heard of the site and wanted to know what it was. I showed him the site, explained how it was basically a giant movie library. He was astonished. Many of the films on Netflix are still banned in China.
For those of you who don't know, China has INSANE restrictions on foreign films shown inside their borders. Incredibly, only TWENTY foreign films are allowed to be shown in China each year. Think about that for a second. The average American probably sees twenty or so films a year at the movie theater. Even then, that's only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the number of movies that come out in the US alone. Not only are foreign films nearly impossible to get a hold of in China, many films are outright banned by the government. These banned films include, I kid you not:
-A.I. - Artificial Intelligence
-Back to the Future
-The Dark Knight
-Memoirs of a Geisha
-Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
-And many, many other Chinese films that have fallen out of favor with the government
And yet, right before my roommate's eyes, I was showing him a site where he could watch all of these films. Even more incredible to my roommate was that this was legal. He asked me if you got in trouble for watching these films. I told him the truth. "No, it's perfectly legal." My roommate was amazed. He told me that in China if you wanted to watch something non-approved by the government, you had to download it. And in China, with their massive agencies designed to keep a close eye on their citizens' internet activities, doing so could get oneself into serious trouble with the law. So naturally he was suspicious and wary of a site with so many banned films.
Then he asked me a strange question: "Don't they ban films in America?" I paused for a second. I wondered what I should say. Then I decided, once again, on telling the truth. "Not really. The federal government can't officially ban a film in this country. Some local governments can, but I can't think of any instances when a movie has been banned by federal law."
Upon hearing my answer, my roommate lowered his head, dropped his eyes to the ground, and said in a half whisper, "That's because America is a free country."
As I write this, my roommate is busy setting up his own Netflix account. I have provided him with a list of great films that I thought that he might enjoy and may never get to see in China. This was one of the first times in my life that I understood just how powerful and meaningful my country's freedoms are. Folks, I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud to live in a country where men and women have given their lives in order to protect my Freedom of Speech. It might sound cheesy, but I really do. And, of course, I recognize the brave men and women who have also given their lives to protect basic human rights in other countries. In the Western world, it's so easy to take our freedoms for granted.
So be thankful, folks. Be thankful that we live in a part of the world where information is free for the taking. For there are many, many people, just like my roommate, who live in places where it is not.