The Real Reason John Cena Apologized For Calling Taiwan a Country

The star walked back a statement he made while promoting F9. Now, fans are eyeing Hollywood’s dependency on the Chinese box office.

John Cena! Seems like a pretty earnest guy, no? Since he shed (mostly) his WWE persona, he's turned into a happy-go-lucky type. The guy's always quipping it up on the Wipeout! reboot. His role as the Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad looks like a hoot and a half. Plus, he'll star in what'll likely be the movie of the summer: F9, the latest installment of the batshit Fast & Furious franchise.

All of that said, it's a little jarring to see this smiley man in the middle of a global controversy. Yeah. Earlier this month, Cena was out and about promoting F9. In an interview with Taiwanese broadcaster TVBS, he said in Mandarin that “Taiwan is the first country that can watch" F9. In China, Taiwan—which is a self-ruled democratic island—is viewed as a breakaway province. The tension between China and Taiwan runs deep: so much that calling Taiwan a country can anger Chinese nationalists. So, on Tuesday, Cena posted a video on Weibo, a Chinese social network, where he apologized for calling Taiwan a country. Speaking in Mandarin, he said he "made a mistake."

"Now I have to say one thing which is very, very, very important: I love and respect China and Chinese people,” Cena said, continuing, “I’m very sorry for my mistakes. Sorry. Sorry. I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China and Chinese people.”

Now, you should know: this whole thing is... loaded. Big-budget Hollywood films like F9 pull big bucks overseas. So, you'll sometimes see the people behind those films stay away from talking about anything even the slightest bit controversial in China. You'll rarely see any American actor with a venture that stands to make bank in China talk about the Hong Kong protests. (Remember what happened to NBA GM Daryl Morey when he supported the 2019 protests?) Or mass detention camps in China. And, of course, as we saw with Cena this week: the very likely possibility that China could invade Taiwan in the coming years. So, you can imagine why many were quick to pounce on Cena's video—some calling it an attempt to ensure that F9's ticket sales won't suffer because of his interview, others going as far to say that it's an outright apology to the Chinese Communist Party.


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Cena's about-face is hardly the first of its kind in Hollywood, which has long tried to keep its relationship with the world's second-largest box office market smooth. A 2020 report from PEN America titled, “Made in Hollywood, Censored by Beijing,” detailed how studios and directors make cast, plot, and script choices “based on an effort to avoid antagonizing Chinese officials.” This includes extensive efforts to pass through Chinese censors. Take this 2018 report from The New York Times as overwhelming evidence, which goes as far to show emails from Sony executives changing the script for Pixels just to ensure the film would release in China. So Hollywood's tip-toeing around Chinese politics likely won't end anytime soon, as long as there are movie tickets to be sold.

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by editors.

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