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A new show announcement from Netflix has set off a firestorm in China

Published Sep 7th, 2020 10:18PM EDT
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  • Chinese sci-fi fans have begun expressing skepticism online following the news that the Game of Thrones showrunners are adapting the celebrated Chinese novel The Three-Body Problem as a new series for the streamer.
  • The worries involve such concerns as the new Netflix series possibly ending up being too “American-ized,” with key elements of its Chinese-centric story removed or dramatically changed to suit different audiences.
  • Fans of The Three-Body Problem include President Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

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showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a tough challenge on their hands when it comes to the ambitious new sci-fi project they’re bringing to fruition for Netflix. It’s not just that their newly announced series — an adaptation of Chinese author Liu Cixin’s highly acclaimed novel The Three-Body Problem — is an epic, sweeping in its scope and in the expansiveness of the story of a group of people who work to bring about an alien invasion of Earth.

The team behind the forthcoming series also faces the daunting task of convincing Chinese sci-fi fans and lovers of the story first published in China back in 2008 that the two men responsible for one of the most disappointing TV seasons in history (Game of Thrones‘ eighth and final season) won’t make similar work of Cixin’s novel.

“As the rivalry between China and the US intensifies, the Western producer will definitely find ways to insert their beliefs in the series,” one Chinese social media user recently predicted in a post on Weibo. The Americans behind Netflix’s adaptation, the post continues, will likely add “elements like gay people, ethnic minorities, freedom and democracy as well as American-style heroism.”

Per Quartz, another Weibo user fretted over a similar watering-down of the story, or the likelihood that producers will try to “American-ize it” — “Given the sensitivity of the book’s setting, I am worried China will be attacked thoroughly based on American values.”

Among the story’s characters are astrophysicist Ye Wenjie, a central character in the book who watches her father beaten to death during China’s “Cultural Revolution” in the ’60s. This is what helps inspire her to make contact with aliens, hoping that they bring about a better future for Earth. With this in mind, some Chinese fans have speculated on social media that the team behind the Netflix adaptation might completely change this element of the story to make it more relevant to American audiences, such as by transforming the character of Wenjie into a Black woman whose father, rather than being beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution, died as a result of police brutality.

When Netflix announced just a few days ago that the series is coming to the streamer, the news instantly garnered headlines around the world. That’s partly because of the fact that the books from Cixin — who will help out on the show as a “consulting producer” — have such a passionate global fan base, one that includes people like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and former president Barack Obama.

Cixin, for his part, said audiences shouldn’t worry about Netflix diluting the Chinese elements out of the story: “I have the greatest respect for and faith in the creative team adapting The Three-Body Problem for television audiences,” Cixin said, in a statement released by Netflix. “I set out to tell a story that transcends time and the confines of nations, cultures and races; one that compels us to consider the fate of humankind as a whole. It is a great honor as an author to see this unique sci-fi concept travel and gain fandom across the globe and I am excited for new and existing fans all over the world to discover the story on Netflix.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.