Chinese internet billionaire Jack Ma has joined forces with cinema legend Steven Spielberg to produce and distribute films, they announced, the latest major tie-up between China and Hollywood.
Alibaba Pictures, a unit of Ma’s sprawling e-commerce conglomerate, said it had taken a minority stake in Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, a film creation company that includes DreamWorks studios.
The deal will see the companies co-finance and co-produce movies for Chinese and international audiences, Alibaba said on its corporate website.
Alibaba Pictures will also have a seat on the board of Amblin. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.
At a press conference in Beijing on Sunday, Spielberg — who shot his 1987 movie “Empire of the Sun” in Shanghai — said the partnership will allow him to “bring more China to America and bring more America to China”, according to the Alibaba statement.
Alibaba chief Jack Ma said that while the US and China “may have cultural differences”, the company will focus on human stories and serve as a bridge between the two countries.
The partnership will give Spielberg’s company access to Alibaba’s online ecosystem and films will be distributed through streaming platforms such as the group’s Youtube-like Youku Toudu.
The deal is the latest in a wave of Chinese money flowing to Hollywood, with real estate developer turned media conglomerate Wanda buying Jurassic World creator Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion earlier this year.
Foreign film companies are heavily restricted from entering China’s booming market, with an opaque review process and government caps limiting the number of non-Chinese movies that can be shown.
To get around restrictions, Hollywood studios have sought partnerships with local companies.
In an interview posted on the company website Alibaba Pictures president Zhang Wei said the tie-up was “not just a financial investment” and that the company chose Amblin over other Hollywood partners because their early conversations did not focus only on funding.
“There’s a lot of hot money from China floating around Hollywood right now, and we’ve had quite a few people approaching us wanting a partnership,” she said. “Oftentimes people see us as a source of capital and as a way into China.”
The partnership follows an announcement by Wanda last month to invest in movies produced by Sony Pictures, its first deal with one of Hollywood’s so-called “Big Six” studios, after it snapped up the US movie theatre chain AMC in 2012 for $2.6 billion.
Wanda’s Hollywood ambitions have raised eyebrows in the US, with lawmakers suggesting that company chairman Wang Jianlin has close ties to the Chinese government and may be seeking to exert “propaganda controls on American media”, trade magazine Variety reported.