For about one month, Brad Pitt was on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. It’s the abrupt, unexplained nature of his disappearance that has some wondering whether the actor’s profile was removed without his say-so by Chinese authorities, still smarting from a movie he starred in fifteen years ago. Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations on that kind of thing?
Pitt’s profile appeared on January 7, with the short-but-sweet message “It is the truth. Yep, I am coming…” Within two hours, that comment had been shared 20,000 times, received 8,000 comments and brought around 73,000 fans to the actor’s profile. But, according to the Hollywood Reporter, all of those fans – and, presumably, the actor himself – would have been disappointed to discover last Thursday that the entire profile had seemingly been deleted, with attempts to access it being re-directed to the generic Sina Weibo error page. So what happened?
The short answer: It’s unclear. Pitt’s representatives haven’t responded to requests for comment, meaning that the profile’s disappearance may have entirely benign, if surprisingly final, roots (Although, you’d assume that the profile would more likely be abandoned rather than deleted, in that case). However, many seem to believe that Pitt’s profile was deleted by Chinese authorities or Sina Weibo itself acting on behalf of the authorities.
This wouldn’t be out of character for either Chinese authorities nor Sina Weibo; in the past, specific messages on the social media site have mysteriously gone missing without any explanation in the past when critical of the government or official policies, and the Chinese government is famed for staying quiet on the issue of whether it has either censored or requested censorship of specific Internet sites and/or accounts.
In this case, the reason why Pitt may be under attack is his role in 1997’s Seven Years in Tibet, a movie that was considered to portray China in an unfavorable light regarding the country’s part in the annexation of Tibet. At the time of the movie’s release, Pitt – along with co-star David Thewlis and director Jean-Jacques Annaud – were not only condemned by Chinese authorities, but also banned outright from entering the country as a result of their involvement with the film. Although Annaud’s ban has apparently been lifted – he returned to the country last year as the chairman of the jury for the 15th Shanghai International Film Festival – it’s unclear whether the same is true for either Thewlis or Pitt. Therefore, it’s possible that Pitt’s profile (or, for that matter, right to have one in the first place) was similarly illegal as a result.
This is one occasion where, if the deletion of the profile really was done by Pitt’s staff, China may want to consider commenting on the matter officially just this once. Otherwise, it makes the authorities look surprisingly petty.