From Platoon and JFK to the documentary The Untold History of the United States, film director Oliver Stone has long been known for riling up his audiences. That’s what he did again on Thursday, but this time in front of a Chinese audience. Speaking at the Beijing International Film Festival, Stone minced no words on the still mostly taboo topic of Mao’s mistakes:
“Mao Zedong has been lionized in dozens and dozens of Chinese films, but never criticized. It’s about time. You got to make a movie about Mao, about the Cultural Revolution. You do that, you open up, you stir the waters and you allow true creativity to emerge in this country.”
The 67-year-old Stone spoke on a panel alongside director Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Gravity) and Paramount Pictures executive Frederick Huntsberry, according to a report in the Hollywood Reporter.
With the official verdict on Mao 70 percent good, 30 percent bad, a public discussion of the Great Helmsman’s most egregious errors, including mass starvation during the 1958 Great Leap Forward and violent excesses of the decade-long Cultural Revolution, has been suppressed. That’s true, too, of films looking at China’s modern history and Mao’s role in that era, including the 2009 state-funded propaganda epic, The Founding of a Republic.
“Three times I’ve made efforts to co-produce in this country and I’ve come up short. We’ve been honest about our own past in America, we’ve shown the flaws,” Stone said, to the seeming consternation of the Chinese moderator Zhang Xun, president of the China Films Co-Production Corp., who in vain tried to divert Stone to softer topics.
“We are not talking about making tourist pictures, photo postcards about girls in villages. This is not interesting to us. We need to see the history, to talk about great figures like Mao and the Cultural Revolution. These things happened, they affect everybody in this room,” Stone continued. “We’re talking about the essential essence of this nation of how it was built, this whole century, you’ve not dealt with it.”
His remarks earned applause from the audience of Chinese and foreign movie business professionals.