First, China banned late-night gaming and even femininity in men—not a simple task, one may say, but the country really went for it—then it suspended 22 K-pop accounts on its social media site Weibo. Now, it’s been revealed that Chinese streaming platforms Tencent, Youku, Bilibili and IQiyi have removed references to Carol Willick, Ross Geller’s ex-wife and a lesbian character, as well as politically sensitive images and sexually suggestive language from the hit sitcom Friends, which returned to the services this month. Understandably, the move caused fans of the TV show to express their anger on social media.
In the first episode of the show, conversations regarding Carol, who divorced Ross after realising she is a lesbian, were simply deleted. Other dialogues that were considered sexually suggestive were also edited out. In the original version, Ross mentions that “there was only one woman” for Carol, who leaves him for her friend Susan Bunch, while his friend Joey asks him if he ever knew she was a lesbian.
Reporting on the censorship, Bloomberg cited this example, “In the original episode, Ross tells his parents, ‘So, here’s the deal: Carol’s a lesbian. She’s living with a woman named Susan. She’s pregnant with my child. And she and Susan are going to raise the baby.’ His parents look at each other in shock. In China, the scene skips from ‘Here’s the deal’ to the parents looking shocked.”
In another scene, something more peculiar is censored: a globe pictured in the background of a scene becomes too blurry to decipher. It’s easy to imagine why it might have been blurred out.
Fans have since taken to Weibo to protest censorship of the show, with #FriendsCensored becoming the most trending hashtag on the site. According to CNN, it received more than 54 million views on the night of Friday 11 February, but was later censored by the platform on Saturday morning, with search results showing “this topic is not shown according to relevant laws and regulations.”
Many users mocked this as an “insult to [their] English language ability.” One Weibo user said: “Not only does it ignore women’s sexual desire and enjoyment, but also reinforces the gender stereotype of women.” This comment received over 81,000 likes. Comments by viewers on the Bilibili streaming service criticised the changes for rendering plotlines incomprehensible.
Earlier this year, censors rewrote the ending of the David Fincher movie Fight Club, replacing its iconic final scene with a line of on-screen text declaring that all criminals were brought to justice. After widespread outcry on Chinese social media, the original ending was restored.
When the film Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of British rock band Queen, was released in China in 2019, more than two minutes of LGBTQ content were removed from the film, including scenes of two men kissing and the word ‘gay’.
Prior to its return on Chinese screens, Friends debuted on the country’s streaming platforms Sohu video and iQiyi in 2012 without any censorship and was available to watch until its streaming agreement ended in 2013.