China censors LGBTQ storyline in ‘Friends’

In the first episode, conversations about Ross’ character’s ex-wife Carol, who is divorcing after realizing she’s a lesbian, were deleted. Other sexually suggestive conversations were also deleted.

In the original version, Ross mentions that “there was only one woman” to Carol, who leaves him for her friend Susan, while her friend Joey asks if he ever knew she was a lesbian. .

“Friends,” which stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer as six friends living in New York, is hugely popular in China with an extremely loyal fan base.

The show debuted on Chinese streaming platforms Sohu video and iQiyi in 2012 without any censorship, and it was available until its streaming deal ended in 2013.

Following the rise in popularity of the 2021 TV special “Friends: The Reunion,” which saw the six main cast reunite to reminisce about the show, Chinese streaming platforms bought the broadcast rights to the show together. .

Platforms such as Bilibili, Tencent, Youku, Sohu and iQiyi started streaming “Friends” from Feb. 11.

Fans took to Chinese social media site Weibo to protest the show’s censorship, with #FriendsCensored becoming the site’s top trending topic.

The hashtag received more than 54 million views on the site on Friday evening, but was later censored by the platform on Saturday morning, with search results indicating that “this topic is not posted in accordance with applicable laws and regulations”.

CNN has reached out to Bilibili, Tencent, Youku, Sohu and iQiyi for comment.

In the previous version on Sohu, Ross said “[Women can have] multiple orgasms” while discussing the advantages of men and women with her friends in the cafe. However, in the recent release, the platforms replaced the Chinese subtitle of Ross’s line with “Women have endless gossip” despite retaining the original soundtrack and English subtitle.

Many netzines mocked this as an “insult to our English ability”. One Weibo user said, “Not only does this ignore women’s sexual desire and pleasure, but it also reinforces the gender stereotype of women.” This comment received more than 81,000 likes.

The censorship is the result of the Chinese government’s tightening control over media and entertainment.

In 2016, China issued new guidelines stating that television programs should not include stories involving same-sex relationships, as well as other topics that “exaggerate the dark side of society”. The eight-page document referred to “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content” and considered homosexuality, extramarital affairs, one-night stands and underage love to be prohibited.

When the film “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a biopic by British rock band Queen, was released in China in 2019, more than two minutes of LGBTQ content was removed from the film, including scenes of two men kissing and the word “gay”.

CNN’s Jeevan Ravindran contributed to this report.


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