The controversy surrounding Disney’s live-action update on 1998 animated classic Mulan is heating up just as the film is about to be released in China. In recent days, backlash outside the Middle Kingdom has increased over a line in the movie’s credits roll that reportedly thanks the Xinjiang authorities, including one entity that is on the U.S.-sanctions list, for their cooperation in making Mulan. Xinjiang province is an area where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.
On Wednesday, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo) sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, condemning the company for what Hawley called “whitewashing the ongoing genocide of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities during the production of Mulan.” The film partly shot in the province.
Hawley’s letter (in full below) asks Disney whether it will pull Mulan from Disney+ “to avoid further glorifying CCP officials and agencies responsible for the atrocities in Xinjiang.” He also requests that Disney explain what assistance the studio received from communist party agencies “involved in the genocide and how the agencies were compensated.”
According to The New York Times, entities mentioned in Mulan’s credits include the police bureau in Turpan, a city in eastern Xinjiang that has a large Uighur population. Last October, the Trump administration placed that bureau and other police organizations in Xinjiang on a blacklist that forbids U.S. companies to sell or supply products to them.
Deadline has reached out to Disney asking for comment.
This is the latest issue facing Mulan which was scheduled for release in March, and later danced around a shifting calendar due to the COVID pandemic. In August, it was announced the film would go to Disney+ in the markets where the streaming service is available. Elsewhere, it would release theatrically.
In summer 2019, Chinese-born Mulan star Liu Yifei stirred controversy on blogging site Weibo when she wrote that she stood with the Hong Kong police who were engaged in an oppressive crackdown on anti-government demonstrators and journalists. That sparked a #BoycottMulan social media outcry. At the time, USC professor and China expert Stanley Rosen told us, “With the boycott originating through Hong Kong, people in China will deliberately go see the movie to protest the boycott. All of this could actually benefit the film.”
Mulan began rollout and performed solidly last weekend in a handful of markets. U.S. and international reviews have been generally good for the film. It is due to release in China tomorrow where it is carrying a low 4.7 on reviews site Douban. An opening in the $30M range has been suggested. Piracy is of course an issue now that the movie is on Disney+.
Rosen now tells Deadline, “The backlash outside China should help a ‘patriotic’ support of the film within the country. On Weibo and WeChat, Mulan is a trending topic and there is a great deal of interest. The fact that you have Gong Li, Donnie Yen, Jet Li and Liu Yifei in the film will definitely help. There has already been a lot of discussion about the film, with much more that is positive than negative,” within China.
However, he says, “In this year of blaming China by both parties, it would not surprise me to see Disney called to testify in Washington about their China-friendly policies, and how they can reconcile that with ethical considerations and American foreign policy considerations. That will put Disney in an uncomfortable position since they can’t afford — financially — to upset China, but they also don’t want to be seen as a ‘running dog’ of China. When the NBA closed their Xinjiang basketball camps over physical abuse by Chinese trainers and other issues, they declined to say it was a human rights issue, something that China would certainly have reacted to if they had done so.” In July this year, Hawley sent a mass letter criticizing NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s relationship with China.
All of this also comes after a recent report by PEN America which pilloried Hollywood for playing ball with China’s censorship demands and “troubling compromises on free expression.”
We’ll update with any response from Disney. In the meantime, here’s Hawley’s letter:
Dear Mr. Chapek:
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing genocide in Xinjiang—and not just cultural genocide either. There was a time when Beijing might have been satisfied with enslaving Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, even as it tortured them into abandoning their beliefs and swearing loyalty to the Party. But that is no longer the case. Now Beijing appears intent on destroying the Uighur people. And it has rolled out a sophisticated campaign to do just that, including by systematically sterilizing Uighur women and aborting their children.
On August 13, 2018, Walt Disney Studios announced that production had begun on Mulan. By that time, numerous reports had been released by the U.S. government and non-government organizations concerning the mass internment of Uighurs and others in camps in Xinjiang. But that did not stop Disney from going to Xinjiang to film Mulan. Nor did it stop Disney from collaborating with the Chinese officials directly responsible for the atrocities at those camps.
The Mulan closing credits tell the story. Nine minutes into the ten-minute credit roll, Disney gives “special thanks” to the Turpan Public Security Bureau—the very same bureau responsible for administering the concentration camps in the Turpan jurisdiction. Disney also chose to give “special thanks” to several CCP propaganda organs, including the Xinjiang Communist Party’s publicity department. These agencies are tasked with spreading disinformation about the atrocities in Xinjiang in order to shield Beijing from accountability.
Disney’s whitewashing of the ongoing Uighur genocide is contrary to all of your company’s supposed principles. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, you wrote about the need to “confront the inscrutable idea that the lives of some are deemed less valuable—and less worthy of dignity, care and protection—than the lives of others.” Elsewhere, Disney has declared its commitment “to providing comfort, inspiration, and opportunity to children and families around the world” and described its “commitment to respect human rights” as a “core value.”
How exactly does giving “special thanks” to the officials responsible for imprisoning, torturing, and forcibly sterilizing millions of people because of their ethnicities and beliefs align with your supposed commitment to promoting human dignity and respecting human rights? How does glorifying the Chinese authorities perpetrating abuses in Xinjiang provide comfort, inspiration, and opportunity to Uighur children—including those who were never born because the CCP forced their mothers to abort them? Disney’s actions here cross the line from complacency into complicity.
For nearly a century, Disney has told stories, produced films, and built theme parks that inspired us, brought us together, and showed us the very best of what American had to offer the world. Your decision to uncritically approve this film’s release rather than apologizing to those harmed by Disney’s actions is reprehensible. Your decision to put profit over principle, to not just ignore the CCP’s genocide and other atrocities but to aid and abet them, is an affront to American values.
As you contemplate your next steps, I request your answers to the following questions:
Does Disney agree that the Chinese Communist Party is responsible for imprisoning and torturing Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang?
Why did Disney choose to film portions of Mulan in Xinjiang, despite the fact that the Chinese Communist Party was imprisoning and torturing Uighurs and others in Xinjiang at the same time?
What assistance did Disney receive from the Turpan Public Security Bureau and other Chinese government agencies involved in the atrocities in Xinjiang?
How did Disney compensate the Turpan Public Security Bureau and other Chinese agencies for any assistance rendered? Is Disney still providing compensation to the Chinese entities listed in the Mulan closing credits, and does it plan to provide compensation to these entities in the future?
Has Disney coordinated, collaborated, or otherwise engaged with any of the Chinese actors that have been designated for sanctions by the Treasury Department on account of their contributions to the atrocities in Xinjiang?
Does Disney condemn the atrocities committed by the Chinese Communist Party against Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang?
Will Disney sever its relationships with the Chinese Communist Party in response to the Party’s abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and elsewhere?
Will Disney pull Mulan from Disney+ in order to avoid any further glorification of Xinjiang or validation of the Chinese Communist Party officials and agencies responsible for the atrocities in that province?
Will Disney donate any of the profits drawn from Mulan to non-governmental organizations dedicated to fighting human trafficking and the other atrocities underway in Xinjiang?
Please deliver your responses to these questions to my office by September 30, 2020. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
United States Senator
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