The Daily Beast reports that Chinese microblogging service Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter (which is blocked there) with upwards of 400 million users, was sent spinning last week when Brad Pitt started an account, inaugurating it with this message: "It is the truth. Yup, I'm coming…" The Weibo message generated tens of thousands of responses, primarily positive, with more than 160K new followers added to the account. Then, on December 8, Pitt's message disappeared. What happened?
Part of the initial excitement surrounding Pitt's supposed visit to China stemmed from the actor's presumed ban from the country. In 1997, Pitt played the young Dalai Lama's Austrian tutor in "Seven Years in Tibet," a film that didn't sit well with the Chinese government for its violent and "biased" portrayal of local officials. Martin Scorsese's "Kundun" and Richard Gere's "Red Corner" invoked the same reaction.
It's unclear whether Pitt's Weibo message was ultimately deleted by the actor and/or his entourage, or whether Chinese censors got rid of it. Reportedly censors routinely erase Weibo messages and even entire accounts considered controversial.
The status of Pitt's visit to China, which would be his first, is uncertain. But the incident highlights a trend: As big-budget Amerian productions are increasingly trying to gain favor with China as a means of expanding worldwide box office potential, international celebrities are looking to expand their fan base in the country, too, particularly via social media. Tom Cruise currently has a Weibo account, 5 million followers strong, and NBA star Stephon Marbury has an account as well, boasting 780K followers.
As the U.S. domestic box office potential of much-delayed and reshot "World War Z," set for global release in June 2013, remains up in the air, Pitt endearing himself to the Chinese public and government could be a good move, and might breathe international box-office life into the troubled production.