Disney criticized for thanking Chinese authorities in 'Mulan' credits, ignoring human rights abuses

Actress Liu Yifei stars as the main character in the live-action remake of the 1998 Disney animated film 'Mulan.'
Actress Liu Yifei stars as the main character in the live-action remake of the 1998 Disney animated film "Mulan." | YouTube/Walt Disney Studios

Movie giant Disney is receiving much scrutiny this week with some calling for a boycott after it thanked Chinese government agencies, which have been accused of being complicit in systemic human rights violations against Muslims, in the live-action remake of “Mulan.”

Released last week, Disney acknowledged several Chinese government agencies in the credits of its live-action remake of the 1998 animated classic. The film is based on the legend of a heroic Chinese woman who takes her father’s place in a military draft and trains with men.

Disney offered its appreciation for government agencies located within China’s troubled Xinjiang province, where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Uighurs and other ethnic Muslims have been held in internment camps and reportedly instructed on how to be more culturally Chinese in recent years.

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Some have called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the Chinese government for genocide.

Specifically, the “Mulan” credits gave thanks to the Xinjiang government’s publicity department as well as the Public Security and Tourism bureaus for Turpan, a city located outside of Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi. 

According to the U.S. State Department, some of China’s worst human rights abuses are occurring in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, where anywhere from 800,000 million to 2 million Uighurs and other ethnic Muslims have been held in “internment camps” since 2017. 

In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security added Turpan Municipality Public Security Bureau to a list that identifies entities “implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China's campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the XUAR.”

Award-winning novelist Jeannette Ng wrote on Twitter: “Mulan specifically thank the publicity department of CPC Xinjiang uyghur autonomous region committee in the credits. You know, the place where the cultural genocide is happening. They filmed extensively in Xinjiang, which the subtitles call ‘Northwest China.’

Although it’s not clear how much of the film was shot in Xinjiang, CNN Business reports that some who worked on the movie stated on social media and in media interviews that they scouted and filmed locations there.

“To make Mulan, Disney worked with four propaganda departments in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, the site of a genocide against Muslims, and the Xinjiang public security bureau,” tweeted Washington Post columnist Isaac Stone Fish. “This is horrific.”

Helen Raleigh, an immigrant from China and immigration policy fellow at the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, is calling on people to join her in boycotting the movie instead of paying the nearly $30 it costs to stream it on Disney+. According to Yahoo Finance, the release of “Mulan” has led to a spike in Disney+ app downloads. 

Raleigh explained in an op-ed that she loved the 1998 version of “Mulan” and was told the legend many times by her mother growing up. She even explained that the story of “Mulan” was part of the inspiration for her to leave her family at a young age to “forge a different and better future.” 

Raleigh pointed out the differences between the live-action film and the 1998 animated version. She cited a Wall Street Journal article reporting that Disney “shared the script with Chinese authorities while consulting with local advisers” to insure a Chinese release of the film.

While the 1998 animated version of the film stressed the theme of self-determination, Raleigh argued that the live-action "Mulan" “emphasizes loyalty above all, something the [Chinese Communist Party], especially its leader, General Secretary Xi Jinping, has demanded from all Chinese people.”

“Since the state and the CCP are synonymous in Communist China, loyalty to the state is no different from being loyal to the CCP,” she wrote. “Absolute loyalty in China is defined as doing whatever the CCP demands of you and never questioning nor disobeying any orders from the CCP. Indeed, if it’s deemed necessary, one should be ready to sacrifice oneself for the CCP.”

The scholar contended that the new “Mulan” does not uphold the “universal appeal established by its predecessor” and is “now purely a product for Chinese consumption.”

Touching on the credits, Raleigh explained that the publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee “serves as the CCP’s propaganda department in the region and the public security bureau in Turpan, a city that is also home of several notorious internment camps for Uighur Muslims and other minorities.” 

“Sadly, we shouldn’t be too surprised at all of this,” Raleigh argued. “Disney has a long history of kowtowing to the Chinese government in its shameless pursuit of profit.”

She pointed to how former Disney CEO Michael Eisner visited China in 1998 and reportedly apologized to CCP leaders for Disney’s release of “Kundun,” a 1997 film based on the life and writings of Tibetan Buddhist Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet. 

Eisner reportedly vowed that in the future, “we should prevent this sort of thing, which insults our friends, from happening.”

“True to his word, since then, neither Disney nor any other major Hollywood studios have made any movies like ‘Kundun’ (Disney) or ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ (Columbia Pictures), movies that might ‘upset’ their masters in Beijing who might cut off access to the world’s largest movie market, which is projected to reach $15.5 billion in box office revenue by 2023.”

Online, some social media commenters were quick to pick up on Disney’s perceived double standard when it comes to its perception of human rights. 

Last May, Disney threatened to quit doing business in the state of Georgia after the state passed legislation that would ban abortions once a heartbeat can be detected. 

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger said in an interview at the time that it would be “very difficult” to continue doing business in Georgia if the law was allowed to take effect. He added that he didn’t “see how it’s practical for us to continue to shoot there.”

“Disney: It will be very difficult for us to keep filming in Georgia if the state enacts its pro-life heartbeat bill. Also Disney: Thank you, China, for allowing us to film ‘Mulan’ in the province where you’re imprisoning and indoctrinating Muslims in camps,” tweeted Alexandra DeSanctis, a visiting fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Raleigh also stressed in her op-ed calling for a boycott of the movie that the leading actress in the film, Liu Yifei, posted her support last year for the crackdown on Hong Kong protesters carried out by Hong Kong police.

Disney also opened a $5.5 billion theme park in Shanghai in 2016.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr noted in remarks earlier this summer that “Disney agreed to give Chinese government officials a role in management.”

“Of the park’s full-time employees, 300 are active members of the Communist Party,” Barr said in July. “They reportedly display hammer-and-sickle insignia at their desks and attend Party lectures at the facility during business hours.”

“Like other American companies, Disney may eventually learn the hard way the cost of compromising its principles,” Barr added.

Disney’s credits come over a month after the National Basketball Assocation faced criticism over alleged abuses that occurred in an NBA camp in Xinjiang that has since been shut down.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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