US Media Pan Disney Over Filming Mulan in Xinjiang

By Joshua Lipes
uyghur-mulan-advertisement-beijing-sept-2020-crop.jpg A man rides past an advertisement promoting Disney's movie Mulan at a bus stop in Beijing, Sept. 9, 2020.

U.S. media outlets have questioned Disney’s decision to film parts of its new blockbuster film in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) amid a campaign by Beijing that has seen hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs thrown in extrajudicial detention.

Disney released its U.S. $200 million live-action version of the popular 1998 animated film “Mulan” about a young woman who pretends to be a man so that she can join the military on behalf of her sick father on its streaming platform Disney+ on Sept. 4.

In the credits of the long-awaited remake, the company thanks several entities known to have contributed to Beijing’s repressive rule in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.

Among those thanked in the credits are the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda commission in the XUAR, which has sought to justify the camps as voluntary “vocational centers,” despite reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service which has found that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Disney also thanked the Turpan branch of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, which in July was sanctioned by the Trump administration for its role in abuses in the region.

On Monday, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby called for a boycott of the film, saying that because Disney had gone out of its way to thank state agencies responsible for rights abuses in the XUAR, “anyone with a functioning conscience should be nauseated.”

He noted that while Disney in 1996 produced the movie Kundun, about the life of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, it quickly apologized for the film after Beijing restricted the company’s access to Chinese audiences.

“Maybe Disney has no qualms about its open and shameless collaboration with the brutes of Beijing, but the rest of us should,” Jacoby writes.

“Don’t reward that collaboration with your dollars. Boycott ‘Mulan.’”

Disney also drew the ire of CNN anchor Jake Tapper during his State of the Union segment on Sunday, during which he slammed the company for thanking XUAR entities in the film’s credits.

He also dismissed an attempt last week by Disney’s Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy to justify the company’s decision, citing “common knowledge” that filming in China requires the permission of government publicity departments and saying it is standard practice to acknowledge national and local governments in film credits.

“Really? How standard is it to film in an area where the local government has concentration camps and is being accused of genocide?” Tapper asked.

“I guess we should be happy no parts of Fantasia needed to be filmed in occupied Poland.”

Letter from lawmakers

The two reports followed the release of a Sept. 11 open letter to Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek from co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, as well as 17 other U.S. lawmakers, demanding clarification on the company’s cooperation with XUAR agencies.

“The decision to film parts of Mulan in the XUAR, in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide,” the letter read.

The lawmakers noted that Disney states on its website that the company believes “social responsibility is a long-term investment that serves to strengthen our operations and competitiveness in the marketplace, enhance risk management, attract and engage talented employees, and maintain our reputation.”

“We seek to fully understand how you implement this commitment in the activities you undertake in China,” the letter said.

Globally, Mulan has earned U.S. $37.6 million to date at the box office. The film, which has faced tough reviews in China for what critics say are poor action scenes and its deviation from the plot of the original animated feature, endured a disappointing debut of only U.S. $23.2 million.


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