If the principles that led to Charlie Chan being shanghaied off Fox Movie Channel were applied across the Atlantic, more than 100 million Europeans would be denied access to two of their most beloved fictional characters.
Those would be the wise Apache Indian Winnetou, and his trusty sidekick Old Shatterhand, who were dreamed up by the 19th century German writer Karl May. May, depending on your source, either never traveled to the United States, or only did so four years before his death. The Winnetou books were huge across Europe, but took on a life their own in the communist East, where the propagandists approved of their pre-Costner portrayals of Native Americans as heroes, and cowboys as villains. In the 1960s and '70s a series of popular Winnetou films were produced in the East Bloc, typically with Yugoslav Gojko Mitic in the lead role, and various Bulgarians and gypsies fleshing out the tribe. (In a fun Cold War twist, American commie Dean Reed, a.k.a., The Red Elvis, would sometimes play a villanous cowboy.) As usual, however, the censors couldn't control how individuals reacted to the art, and soon audiences in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were starting hardcore Winnetou societies, where once or twice a year they would dress up in full costume, head out into the woods, and play impressively complicated war games, completely in character. More than one Winnetou-mad friend of mine has described these outings to be some of the few times they felt truly free to speak their minds, and inevitably the talk would get around to bashing the regime. (The pastime, by the way, is more popular than ever today.
But try to tell a Hungarian Winnetou enthusiast that his beloved Yugoslav film adaptations of a German novelist's fantasies might be a tad inaccurate, and possibly stereotypical … and he might scalp you on the spot.