After weeks of careful consideration by censors, China finally debuted the official, government-approved version of Django Unchained in its national cinemas today, which amounted to approximately one minute of footage. According to an attendee who spoke to the L.A. Times, audiences saw “the credits and heard a few sentences of dialogue” before the lights came on, after which the manager announced that China’s State Administration for Film, Radio, and Television had phoned the theater demanding the movie be shut off, because it was over now. Or, in the words of the many official explanations from the theaters, because of “technical reasons”—as in technically, Jamie Foxx’s penis is visible in an early scene, in what is the unofficial, speculative reason several Chinese bloggers suggested for why the film would have been halted so abruptly, only moments into its premiere.
However, the idea that China’s government somehow overlooked Jamie Foxx’s penis seems unlikely: As previously reported, Sony Pictures and Quentin Tarantino had been willingly cooperating with censors who demanded only that the blood be darker and shorter, which certainly seems like a natural segue to discussing Jamie Foxx’s penis. Instead, the film was approved for release and even became the subject of a widespread advertising campaign, something the New York Times notes “usually would not be conducted if a movie’s future were in doubt.” Adding to the mystery, the administration still hasn't issued an official explanation for why the film was pulled or if it will ever be returned to theaters, marking one of the few times China’s government hasn’t concerned itself with transparency.
Still, according to Gao Jun, former president of Beijing’s New Film Association theater firm, there’s nothing strange at all about this sudden and unexplained censorship that angered thousands, even the staunchest defenders of the Chinese government. “This is a very minor incident,” he said. “It’s just that Hollywood films aren’t that popular in China right now. People prefer to watch Chinese made films—they’re more familiar.” And apparently, sometimes the Chinese people just need their leaders to forcibly remind them of that.