Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday, 12 September 2020


Lawmakers Press Disney Chief About Xinjiang Links to ‘Mulan’

  • Filming took place in region where China’s crackdown unfolded
  • Democrats and Republicans send letter to CEO Bob Chapek
A screen displays the trailer for Mulan at a cinema in Beijing, China on Sept. 11.
A screen displays the trailer for Mulan at a cinema in Beijing, China on Sept. 11. Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has asked Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek to explain the company’s contacts with “security and propaganda authorities” in the Xinjiang region of China during production of the live-action version of “Mulan.”

After it was learned that scenes from the $200 million movie had been filmed in Xinjiang, where as many as 1 million Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims, have been forced into detention camps, a boycott campaign against the film intensified.

Inside The D23 Expo Media Preview

Bob Chapek

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

“Disney’s apparent cooperation with officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) who are most responsible for committing atrocities — or for covering up those crimes — is profoundly disturbing,” the representatives and senators wrote in a letter on Friday.

The lawmakers, including Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, as well as Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, pointed out that the crackdown by the Beijing government in Xinjiang has long been well known, and the decision to film there “in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide.”

Earlier: Disney Nods to Uproar Over Filming ‘Mulan’ in China’s Xinjiang

The letter contained several queries, one about the “use of Uighurs or other ethnic minority labor, as well as any due diligence performed to ensure that no forced labor was used during the film’s production.”

The lawmakers referred the high regard that Disney says it holds for social responsibility and added: “we seek to fully understand how you implement this commitment in the activities you undertake in China.”

The film, which was released in Chinese theaters on Friday, has become a political lightning rod, with elected U.S. officials castigating the close ties between Hollywood and the Chinese government in an increasingly heated political and economic climate.

The controversy began last year after Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei, who plays the title character, said she supported the Hong Kong police over pro-democracy protesters in the city. A #BoycottMulan campaign began on Twitter.

After the film was made available for purchase online on Sept. 4 in the U.S. and Europe, attention was drawn to the credits, in which Disney thanked several local authorities in Xinjiang. The government runs camps in Xinjiang that it calls “voluntary reeducation centers” and has banned religious names for children as well as the observing of day-time fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Read: Her Father in Prison, Uighur Activist Wants Disney to Apologize

Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to requests for a comment made after business hours.

The company’s Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said Thursday that Disney shot the film mostly in New Zealand. Some 20 locations in China were also used to better capture the geography of the country. It’s customary, McCarthy said, to thank local governments in the credits.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company has already had a long and expensive struggle to get “Mulan” before audiences. With American theaters in the U.S. still largely closed, “Mulan” was offered to Disney+ subscribers for $30.

The uproar coincided with a sharp decline in relations between the U.S. and China, and with President Donald Trump making denunciations of the Beijing government a central theme of his re-election campaign.

Earlier this week, the Trump administration said it banned imports from three companies in the Xinjiang region of China over Beijing’s alleged repression of the Uighurs, and it planned to add curbs on six more firms and target cotton, textiles and tomatoes from the area.

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