Bucharest

Chuck Norris vs. Communism

A story of censorship and cinephilia from the East

Political vs. Social change

Censorship’ is one of the most common words to describe Romania in the 1980s.During Communism, it was an important form of controlling the way in which information would reach the public, reducing television to two hours a day of propaganda, patriotic poems and traditional music. This was not something confined solely to the realm of cinematography, but it was the ‘go-to method’ for various domains (theatre plays, music, media).

The social sphere represented the embodiment of this political regime. The state controlled every aspect of peoples’ lives, including food ratios, living conditions and information.

© Scott Edelman

Windows to the West

It was during these drastic times the solution came from an unexpected place, more specifically a VHS tape. Granted, it may sound trivial considering that we are discussing a plastic tape as an alternative for undermining an oppressive, powerful regime, still it is very much true. Smuggled VHS tapes showing images of the Western world, with its shiny skyscrapers, luxurious cars and Coca Cola commercials offered people something very important: hope. Hollywood movies would bring the whole household together, neighbors and friends, creating a community that strongly believed Communism would fall as every one of Chuck Norris’s enemies.

“You could almost touch freedom and the West.” Ilinca Calugareanu

Documentary screenshot

This brings us to the inspiring documentary Chuck Norris vs. Communism, by Ilinca Calugareanu. Creating a ‘life-beats-movie’ kind of tale, the production is based on the true story of Teodor Zamfir and Irina Margareta Nistor. It is the story of VHS tape smuggling from Hungary, translated by a young woman that officially worked for the National Censorship Comittee. The irony behind the whole context emphasizes how social mobilization and collaboration can be powerful enough to create change within a political system.

The documentary is currently available on Netflix. Watch the link below for a quick preview.

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