Chinese streaming platforms censor lesbian storyline in ‘Friends’ TV show

After Chinese streaming platforms censored an LGBTQ2S+ storyline from the popular American TV show Friendsfans speak out on social media.

Major streaming platforms in China, including iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku and Bilibili, began airing the first season of the long-running sitcom on February 11, albeit with several episode changes. Several scenes regarding Ross’ ex-wife, Carol Willick, being a lesbian were deleted or omitted from the translated version, according to South China Morning Post. Another scene where Chandler and Joey kiss during a New Year’s Eve episode was also cut.

Additionally, gender-related references throughout the 24-episode first season have been removed in Chinese subtitles. In one scene, Ross talks about women having “multiple orgasms,” but on Chinese streaming platforms, the captions for that line read, “Women have endless gossip.” (The line’s English captions carry the correct translation.)

In another instance, Joey recommends that Ross go to a strip club after his wife leaves, which has been translated as “going out and having fun”.

The 10-season show centers on Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), and Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) , six friends living in Manhattan. Friendsaired from 1994 to 2004, gained popularity in China as a way to learn English in the 1990s.

Through digital copies and pirated DVDs, the show provided an insightful depiction of modern city life and gave Chinese viewers a taste of American culture, such as the Washington Post reports. As a result, the comedy now has a mass following in the country, with thousands of dedicated Chinese fan clubs.

“In another instance, Joey recommends that Ross go to a strip club after his wife leaves, which has been translated as ‘going out and having fun’.‘”

Outraged fans took to social media site Weibo late last week to report the show’s censorship on streaming platforms. The hashtag #FriendsCensored became the top trending topic on the microblogging platform on February 11, with 54 million views. But it was deleted the next day, with search results stating “this topic is not posted in accordance with applicable laws and regulations,” according to CNN.

Friends isn’t the only show censored by the Chinese government in recent years. With the Communist Party’s control over business, education, culture and religion, federal authorities have tightened restrictions on the media and entertainment industry. In 2016, the country issued new regulations banning all depictions of gay people on television in a bid to crack down on “vulgar, immoral and unhealthy content”.

Chinese censorship of LGBTQ+ content doesn’t just apply to TV. In 2019, over two minutes of footage was cut from the Freddie Mercury biopic, Bohemian Rhapsodyincluding scenes of two men kissing and the use of the word “gay”.

Last September, China banned so-called “effeminate” men from appearing on television, urging broadcasters to “resolutely put an end to sissies and other abnormal aesthetics”. Fearing that Chinese pop stars will draw inspiration from K-pop and Japanese musicians, authorities are reportedly encouraging more “masculine” portrayals of men.

Earlier this month, streaming platforms currently offering Friends announced that they would release one season per week. Friends was previously available uncensored on streaming site Sohu Video, but the rights to the show expired in 2018.