The film stars actors well known to the Chinese audience: Leonardo DiCaprio as a plantation owner and Jamie Foxx as a freed slave who trains to become a bounty hunter and demands his wife's freedom before the U.S. Civil War.
It made more than $160 million at the North American box office and has proved successful overseas as well. China has risen to the second-biggest movie market with sales of $2.7 billion last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
A man who is on the official promotional team for the film but refused to give his name because of the perceived sensibility of the issue said there had been no prior warning about the suspension and that the film's midnight premiere was unaffected.
Photographer Xue Yutao said he was about one minute into the movie at a Beijing theater Thursday morning when a couple of theater employees walked in and told the audience that the screening would be postponed. The announcer did not give a reason or say when the movie would be re-shown, Xue said.
"It was so sudden. I was very shocked," Xue said. "How could this be possible? Something like this has never happened before."
Xue said he resorted to a pirated copy of the film and did not see anything that would have offended Chinese censors.
"I'm not a noble man," the photographer said of his viewing of pirated movies. "I would still prefer to see it in the theater."