Popular television show Friends, which was re-released on Chinese streaming platforms last week, has been censored to remove references to LGBTQIA+ relationships.
Fans of the sitcom took to Chinese social media platforms and expressed their disapproval after noticing certain scenes missing, including those that refer to a lesbian character and one featuring a same-sex kiss.
Friends is set in New York City and revolves around a group of friends, played by Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer.
Initially, the show was streamed uncensored in China by Sohu from 2012 to 2018.
However, when it was re-released on February 11, this year, on platforms like Tencent, Bilibili, iQiyi and Alibaba’s Youku and Sohu, parts of the show were edited. For instance, in the first episode, the conversations regarding Ross’ ex-wife, Carol Willick, who divorces him after realising she is a lesbian, were deleted.
Other explicit sexual references were also subject to censorship. In one scene, incorrect subtitles were used to achieve this. The phrase “multiple orgasms” was translated to the Chinese phrase for “women have endless gossips.”
Fans of the show took to Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, to protest against the censorship, and used the hashtag ‘FriendsCensored’ to create awareness on the matter.
“If you can’t show the complete version under the current atmosphere, then don’t import it,” wrote one user.
According to CNN report, another Weibo user said, “Not only does it [the modification of the ‘multiple orgasms’ line] ignore women’s sexual desire and enjoyment, but it also reinforces the gender stereotype of women.” Others pointed out that keeping the original line and changing only the Chinese subtitle, was an insult to their English language ability.
While China decriminalised homosexuality in 1997, the LGBTQIA+ community is still subject to much discrimination in the country. Further, the increased cultural censorship in China since current President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, was eventually extended to LGBTQIA+ references in media. In 2016, China issued a set of guidelines which banned depictions of gay people on television, classifying them as “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content.”
As a result, popular shows like Addicted were pulled from broadcast on the grounds that they showed “abnormal sexual relationships.”
In 2021, Friends: The Reunion special also faced censorship, when Chinese platforms edited out parts that featured BTS, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber, as well as redacted LGBTQ+ references and a shot of actor Matt LeBlanc in his underwear.
Aside from censoring content that does not align with the country’s ideologies, China’s strict regulation of the entertainment sector also includes preventing or delaying the release of Hollywood films, and imposing curbs on Chinese celebrities’ social media footprints in a bid to preserve mainstream values.
Recently, China had also altered the ending scene of the 1999 film Fight Club, which was released on Tencent Video. While this scene was later restored following social media backlash, the latest version still omits a scene featuring nudity.