That Time Brad Pitt Was Banned from China

By
Photography Steven Klein

Published December 20, 2019

Brad Pitt, twotime Sexiest Man Alive recipient, fan of Killing Eve, and the ultimate celebrity’s celebrity, has enjoyed a career spanning four decades and several iconic relationships. Following breakthrough roles in Interview with the VampireSE7EN, and 12 Monkeys, Pitt aimed to take his rising stardom to new heights as literally as possible. In Seven Years in Tibet, Pitt portrays Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer during his time in Tibet between 1944 and 1951, including his experiences with the 14th Dalai Lama and the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Pitt trained for the role in Italy and Austria, which involved climbing the Dolomites and wearing lederhosen with co-star David Thewlis. In our November 1997 issue, Pitt spoke with photographer Steven Klein about the process of filming the movie:

STEVEN KLEIN: Was it a life-changing event experience doing Seven Years in Tibet?

BRAD PITT: I’d say yes. Sure. All movies are. For an audience it’s two hours, but for me it’s a half year of living. And this one particularly. Being in a different culture for so long, you couldn’t help but walk out of there with something… I didn’t know anything about Tibet, really, and the first images in my head were of Shangri-la, and that’s not it at all. You just get these notions of an oasis in the middle of this violent world, but it’s the people who make it a Shangri-la, not the land.

Despite his reverence for the country, critics found the film underwhelming, and Pitt was nominated for the Stinkers Bad Movie award for Most Annoying Fake Accent. The People’s Republic of China was also disappointed in the film, though for more political reasons, drawing particular criticism towards both the negative depiction of Chinese military officers, as well as the positive portrayal of the 14th Dalai Lama. As a result, Pitt, Thewlis and director Jean-Jacques Annaud were banned from entering China, a list that has grown to include Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, and Martin Scorsese (who also released a movie about the Dalai Lama in 1997), among others. The ban is flexible, it appears, since Pitt later visited China on two separate occasions: in 2014, he joined Angelina Jolie in China for a Maleficent promotional trip, and in 2016 he visited China to support his film Allied, at a reportedly “tightly controlled media event.” No word on how long these bans last, but it might be helpful to sort it out before Pitt has to partake in press junkets for the inevitable sequel, Seven More Years in Tibet.