Ever since the release of its teaser trailer last year, the movie Mulan has been subject to heavy global criticism. At first, the criticism mainly addresses Yifei Liu, the leading actress, supporting Hong Kong police’s brutal abuse of force during the pro-democracy movement last year. On social media, Liu reshared an image posted by People’s Daily, China’s state-owned newspaper, which says: “I support the Hong Kong police. You can beat me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.” The hashtag #BoycottMulan has since then started trending.
Upon the release of the film on streaming service Disney+, it was found that the studio offers “special thanks” in the credits to eight government entities in Xinjiang - where about one million people, mostly Uighur Muslims, are thought to be detained. One agency credited at the end of the movie is the Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security, which has links to the notorious re-education camps in the province. Numerous detainees have alleged torture and abuse at the hands of the authorities there.
Disney claims to entertain, inform and inspire people around the world through unparalleled storytelling, so it is worrying that it is cooperating with those who allegedly systematically violate human rights to achieve its goal, especially when its target market is children worldwide.
The plot and the casting of the movie itself have also been criticised for distorting and denigrating the history of the Turks by preaching that the Huns are bad people and the Han-Chinese are peace lovers. The original Chinese folk story which the movie is based on, in which Mulan is the servant of a khan (emperor) of the Northern Wei dynasty, seems to have been repackaged into a Chinese nationalist drama.
The plot also somehow echoes the communist party’s claim that Uighur Muslim minorities in camps are extremists who pose a threat to the peace and stability in China and thus require “re-education”. The party has used these claims to justify its detaining millions of ethnic minorities, casting a Orwellian dragnet over the region.
The cooperation between Disney and the authorities suggests that the House of Mouse sees the Chinese market as essential for its business to expand. The potential box office revenue in China is huge compared to other countries and Disney has a long relationship with China, having worked closely with the authorities before to launch the Disneyland resort in Shanghai in 2016.
Before Beijing’s reputation experienced a devastating blow because of the coronavirus, the world was very open to what China had to offer in terms of entertainment and culture. However, the increasing number of reports revealing the government’s intention to expand its encroaching authoritarianism, and the recent trade war between Beijing and the US, has struck a nerve with many consumers worldwide.
There is now uneasiness about choosing Chinese products and businesses are more wary about entering the country’s market for fear of being seen to support the regime. The world has come to realise that however beneficial a deal with Beijing may seem, it always comes with a higher price to pay – in this case our consciences.
The backlash against Mulan has rightly sparked international concerns – it’s a movie that seeks to entertain but turns out to be causing misery in the hearts of those who care about human rights and freedom. Surely Disney ought to disclose whatever deal it made with the Xinjiang authorities, as well as any subsidies, funding, assistance and instructions that it has received from the authorities there. The movie is now widely considered as an attempt to spread propaganda and whitewash China’s alleged cultural genocide, to distract the world from what is happening in the region.
Disney has not commented on the film location or credits. We urge Disney to take down such a controversial movie from its streaming service and clarify its stance on the issues regarding Xinjiang.
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