China censors lesbian storyline in ‘Friends’

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Major Chinese streaming platforms have censored an LGBTQ storyline in the popular TV series Friends, prompting fans of the show to take to social media to express their anger.

In the first episode, conversations about the character Ross’ ex-wife, Carol Willick, divorcing him after realizing she is a lesbian were erased. Other conversations that were sexually suggestive were also excised.

In the original version, Ross mentions that “there was only one woman” for Carol leaving him for her friend Susan Bunch while his friend Joey asks him 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 New York-based friends, is very popular in China and has a very loyal following.

The show debuted uncensored on Chinese streaming platforms Sohu Video and iQiyi in 2012 and was available until the end of the streaming deal in 2013.

Following the growing popularity of the 2021 special Friends: The Reunion, which brought the six main cast members together to commemorate the show, Chinese streaming platforms collectively bought broadcast rights to the show.

Platforms like Bilibili, Tencent, Youku, Sohu, and iQiyi have started streaming Friends from February 11th.

Fans have taken to Chinese social media site Weibo to protest the show’s censorship, with #FriendsCensored becoming the hottest topic on the site.

The hashtag received more than 54 million views on the site as of Friday night, but was later censored by the platform on Saturday morning, with search results showing, “This topic will not be displayed in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.”

CNN has contacted Bilibili, Tencent, Youku, Sohu and iQiyi for comment.

In the previous version about Sohu, Ross said: “[Women can have] multiple orgasms” as he discussed the benefits of men and women with his friends at the cafe. However, in the most recent version, the platforms replaced the Chinese subtitle of Ross’ line with “Women have endless gossips”, although the original soundtrack and the English subtitles were retained.

Many netizens derided this as “an insult to our English skills”. One Weibo user said, “It not only ignores women’s sexual desire and lust, but also reinforces women’s gender stereotype.” This comment received more than 81,000 likes.

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

In 2016, China issued new guidelines stating that TV shows should not contain storylines dealing with gay relationships and other topics that “exaggerate the dark side of society”. The eight-page document referred to “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content” and decried homosexuality, extramarital affairs, one-night stands and love of minors as taboo.

When the film Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of 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”.

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