Shadowy forces fighting for control of local movie theaters

On a sweltering day this summer, a handful of protesters gathered outside an AMC movie theater in Times Square, holding red signs proclaiming “AMC = American Movie Communists.”

They were opposing the giant movie theater company AMC’s $1.2 billion purchase of a rival cinema chain, Carmike, that has theaters in 41 states. The deal, which is still subject to government approval, would make AMC the largest theater chain in the U.S. The protesters targeted AMC’s Chinese owners — the sprawling Chinese real estate and entertainment company called Dalian Wanda that acquired the American movie chain in 2002, creating the world’s largest theater empire.

The protest suggested the Carmike acquisition would further extend Beijing’s hidden control over American mass media. But the protesters had not gathered on their own volition. They were being paid to be there by a Washington lobbying firm, Berman and Company, waging a war against Chinese acquisitions of American movie theaters.

It was one of the many unexpected ways a quiet battle is underway to halt a trend of Chinese businesses gobbling up American companies. The battle’s reach now goes beyond traditional areas with obvious national security implications — such as President Obama’s decision late Friday to block the acquisition of a semiconductor company with sensitive technology — into more surprising areas like movie theaters, where concerns about financial ownership collide with issues of cultural openness.



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