After U.S. politicians called out Disney over the filming of Mulan in the Xinjiang region of China, it’s now Netflix’s turn in the crosshairs. At issue for Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and other signatories of a letter addressed to Netflix co-CEO and CCO Ted Sarandos on Wednesday is the streamer’s plan to adapt Chinese author Liu Cixin’s immensely popular sci-fi trilogy The Three-Body Problem. The senators say Liu has “parroted” China’s communist party talking points with regard to the ongoing situation in its Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps,
In early September, Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss set their new TV world-building project at Netflix with Liu’s story of humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization. This was a long-awaited transfer among fans of the books. But now, the missive from the senators is the latest in a series between Washington and Hollywood over ties to China and the Xinjiang region in particular. Senator Blackburn for her part had previously urged the NBA to reevaluate its business dealings with China in Xinjiang.
The senators yesterday wrote to Netflix’s Sarandos of “mass imprisonment, forced labor, thought transformation in order to denounce religion and culture, involuntary medical testing, and forced sterilization and abortion” in the province. They noted in the letter to Sarandos, “Sadly, a number of U.S. companies continue to either actively or tacitly allow the normalization of, or apologism for, these crimes. The decision to produce an adaptation of Mr. Liu’s work can be viewed as such normalization.” See the full letter below.
The five Republican senators explain that their reasoning stems from an interview that Liu gave to the New Yorker in summer 2019. When journalist Jiayang Fan asked the author about the internment camps in Xinjiang. She wrote, “He trotted out the familiar arguments of government-controlled media: ‘Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty… If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.’”
Blackburn and the other senators wrote to Sarandos, “We have significant concerns with Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda. In the face of such atrocities in XUAR, there no longer exist corporate decisions of complacency, only complicity.”
They further seek to know if Netflix senior executives were aware of the statements made by Liu prior to entering into an agreement to adapt his work and ask Netflix “to seriously reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Mr Liu in producing this project.”
Deadline has reached out to Netflix for comment.
Liu is also the author of the short story upon which Chinese blockbuster The Wandering Earth was based. That film, which grossed over $690M in China, was released by CMC Pictures in the U.S. in February 2019 and made $6M. Netflix had also at the time acquired the movie for global SVOD rights excluding Mainland China and 2nd run rights in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Korea.
Here’s the letter tp Netflix from the senators in full, which can also be viewed here:
Dear Mr. Sarandos:
We write today with questions regarding a decision by Netflix to adapt and promote “The Three-Body Problem” by Mr. Liu Cixin as a live-action series on your network.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing atrocities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), also known as East Turkistan to locals, including mass imprisonment, forced labor, thought transformation in order to denounce religion and culture, involuntary medical testing, and forced sterilization and abortion. These crimes are committed systemically and at a scale which may warrant a distinction of genocide. Sadly, a number of U.S. companies continue to either actively or tacitly allow the normalization of, or apologism for, these crimes. The decision to produce an adaptation of Mr. Liu’s work can be viewed as such normalization.
In an interview with the New Yorker last summer, when asked about the ongoing atrocities in XUAR, Mr. Liu parroted CCP talking points accusing all Uyghurs of being terrorists, then stating, “If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty…If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.” When the interviewer draws similarities to Mr. Liu’s trilogy, in which Australia’s population is enslaved and find that they prefer totalitarianism to democracy, Liu implies that she has been brainwashed by the West and that she, “with [her] inflexible sense of morality, was the alien.”
While Congress seriously considers the systemic crimes carried out against the Uyghurs, we have significant concerns with Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda. In the face of such atrocities in XUAR, there no longer exist corporate decisions of complacency, only complicity.
In light of these concerns, we respectfully request answers to the following questions:
1. Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?
2. Were Netflix senior executives aware of the statements made by Mr. Liu Cixin regarding the CCP’s genocidal acts prior to entering into an agreement to adapt his work? If so, please outline the reasoning that led Netflix to move forward with this project. If not, please describe Netflix’s standard process of due diligence and the gaps therein that led to this oversight.
3. Does Netflix have a policy regarding entering into contracts with public-facing individuals who, either publically or privately, promote principles inconsistent with Netflix’s company culture and principles? If so, please outline this policy. If not, please explain why not.
4. In order to avoid any further glorification of the CCP’s actions against the Uyghurs, or validation of the Chinese regime and agencies responsible for such acts, what steps will Netflix take to cast a critical eye on this project – to include the company’s broader relationship with Mr. Liu?
Netflix’s company culture statement asserts that “Entertainment, like friendship, is a fundamental human need; it changes how we feel and gives us common ground.” This statement is a beautiful summary of the value of the American entertainment industry, which possesses innovation largely unmatched in the global market. We ask Netflix to seriously reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Mr. Liu in producing this project.
We appreciate your swift and detailed response to these inquiries.
The letter is signed by Blackburn as well as Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC).
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