China censors 'Friends' LGBTQ+ storyline sparking fan outrage

Chinese fans of the American sitcom 'Friends' were outraged by the removal of LGBTQ+ content from the show.

A scene from American TV show Friends, with all main character present.
Image: YouTube

On Friday, several entertainment platforms in China aired a censored version of the first season of beloved sitcom Friends. Fans were quick to notice that some scenes were cut out entirely from the original episodes and several edits were made that virtually erased LGBTQ+ plots.

In the new version of the episodes, the scene where Ross mentions his ex-wife Carol, who is a lesbian, is completely cut out and the New Year’s kiss between Joey and Chandler never happens. Moreover, other censorship involved mentions of drugs and female pleasure, with Ross’s line that referred to how women can have “multiple orgasms” being translated as “women have endless gossip”, which not only erases female sexual pleasure but also reinforces outdated stereotypes.

Friends is a fans’ favourite in China since it was first released in the country in 2012, in a less censored version. The original episodes were then taken down in 2013 and only after the show gained renewed popularity thanks to the 2021 special ‘Friends: The Reunion‘, did the major Chinese streaming platforms decide to re-release the sitcom.

It’s not the first time that imported TV shows are edited before being streamed in China. In recent years, there has been a rise in censorship and in 2016 guidelines were introduced to regulate the type of content that was deemed appropriate for Chinese morality and ideology, according to the Communist Party.

Depiction of LGBTQ+ people, extramarital affairs, one-night stands and other themes were banned from TV because they were deemed “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content”. According to the guidelines, all topics that “exaggerate the dark side of society” should be removed from storylines. 

When the special episode ‘Friends: the Reunion’ aired last year, a lot of scenes featuring Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and BTS were cut out in the Chinese version. Other cases of censorship caused fan outrage, like a version of Fight Club with a completely different ending and some scenes being cut out of the 2019 movie Bohemian Rhapsody, about world-famous singer Freddy Mercury.

Moreover, the censorship wasn’t limited to TV, as it extended to websites and social media accounts. Only a few months ago, the Chinese social media platform WeChat deleted dozen LGBTQ+ accounts.

Fans turned to the Chinese social media platform Weibo to express their anger about the censorship of the show. The hashtag #FriendsCensored had more than 54 million views on Friday before it was deleted by the site. Many viewers are concerned about how other topics will be dealt with later in the show, like Phoebe acting as a surrogate for her brother and his partner.

Many fans see the removal of such themes on TV as China going in the opposite global direction of growing inclusivity and diversity and becoming even more conservative every day. Many protested the censorship saying that they would prefer the show wasn’t imported at all under these conditions and a Weibo user commented by asking: “Do they think they can reduce the number of lesbians in China by deleting lesbian plots?”

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