Update, February 28:
Disney announced late Monday afternoon that it is halting the release of Turning Red in Russia. The company said in a statement, “Given the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the tragic humanitarian crisis, we are pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia, including the upcoming Turning Red from Pixar. We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation. In the meantime, given the scale of the emerging refugee crisis, we are working with our NGO partners to provide urgent aid and other humanitarian assistance to refugees.”
Even as the western world tries to dissuade Russia from continuing its invasion of Ukraine through sanctions meant to cripple its economy, Hollywood is still hungry to make whatever money it can by continuing to release its most hotly-anticipated pictures to moviegoers in the aggressor nation.
First on the slate for Russian audiences is Warner Bros.’ The Batman, which is set to start the studio’s worldwide release with a March 3 opening day in Russia. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. has no plans to pull the pic despite an appeal this weekend by the Ukrainian Film Academy for studios to boycott Russian cinema.
In an online petition, the Academy is asking producers to stop licensing their films and series for Russia, for international festivals to ban Russian films from inclusion, and for international producers to end all business dealings with Russian companies.
“The outbreak of war in Ukraine is an attack on a civilized world with a democratic system, a crime committed in the heart of Europe,” the Academy says in the petition. “But at a time when world powers are imposing economic and political sanctions on the Russian Federation, the country continues to be active in the cultural field.”
The appeal continues, “We urge you to terminate all contracts with them. Remember that the business that will use your films pays taxes to the Russian budget, which finances the army that violated the borders of an independent state and buys missiles to bomb the civilian population of Europe.”
Warner Bros.—which did not return requests for comment from Los Angeles—is hardly alone in its Russian cash-grab. In fact, it’s hard to find a studio that’s not planning to send their best to Russia with love in the coming weeks.
A small sampling of American-Russian coming attractions include: Disney’s Turning Red on March 10; Sony’s Morbius and DreamWorks/Universal’s The Bad Guys on March 24; Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 30WEST’s Chris Pine actioner The Contractor on March 31; Universal’s Michael Bay explosion, Ambulance, and Paramount’s The Lost City on April 7, plus the next installment of Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts franchise on April 14.
THR—which reports that no studio will comment on their Russia plans—points out that Russian theaters are privately owned, rather than controlled by Vladimir Putin’s government, but many of the country’s advertising platforms are state-owned.
It might also be noted that the suggestion that Putin and his corrupt billionaire oligarch buddies don’t benefit from a thriving Russian entertainment industry is ridiculous on its face.
But no matter what business American studios want to continue doing with Russia, they’re still likely to get burned. Over the weekend, the European Union voted to kick Russia out of the SWIFT banking system, which THR reports could make it hard for studios to get their money back from their Russian distribution partners.
As one studio executive mused to THR, “If the U.S. and its allies want to cut off Russia from the rest of the world, then how would we go ahead and release our movies there?”
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