Disney is under fire for filming a part of its recent live-action reboot “Mulan” in Xinjiang, the region in China where the government has been accused of human rights abuses against Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities.
The final credits in the film, which was released on Disney Plus last week and is being rolled out in several countries this month, thank the public security bureau of Turpan, a Uighur-majority city in the region along with other government departments in Xinjiang.
Human rights activists have taken to social media to condemn Disney for turning a blind eye to alleged abuses against the Uighur community in Xinjiang. They have accused the American enterprise of kowtowing to China for access to its lucrative movie market, the second-largest in the world.
Amnesty International tweeted a link to a media report on the controversy and asked Disney, “Can you show us your human rights due diligence report?”
The new Mulan movie was filmed in the region where China has Uyghur internment camps and there are “special thanks” for a Xinjiang government agency in the credits.@Disney, can you show us your human rights due diligence report?https://t.co/7IaPsYQtKW— Amnesty International (@amnesty) September 8, 2020
A Washington Post opinion contributor called the movie a scandal, and one widely shared tweet suggested that the 'Mulan' crew would have seen "re-education camps” for Uighurs enroute to filming locations.
Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in the remote Xinjiang region have allegedly been locked up in camps as part of a government assimilation campaign launched in response to struggle against Chinese rule. There have also been reports of alleged sterilization and abortion carried out on members of the Uighur community.
Chinese authorities have defended the camps as job training centres, though former detainees describe them as prison-like facilities where they were humiliated, beaten and deprived of food.
“There is no so-called re-education camp in Xinjiang,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said when asked about the Mulan controversy on Tuesday. “The establishment of the vocational education and training centres in Xinjiang is a positive attempt and active exploration of preventive counterterrorism and deradicalization,” he added.
In addition to Xinjiang, the Mulan team has scouted and filmed in multiple other locations in China including the cities of Xi'an and Dunhuang, according to director Niki Caro's Instagram posts. The movie has been partially filmed in New Zealand as well.
The film, which is a remake of the popular 1998 animation, is based on the ancient Chinese tale of Hua Mulan, a young woman who takes her father's place in the army by crossdressing as a man.
The remake was no stranger to controversies even before its release. Last year, a boycott movement was sparked when the lead actor, Liu Yifei, a Chinese-American originally from Wuhan, publicly supported Hong Kong police while they were being accused of using excessive force against Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.
Donnie Yen, a renowned Hong Kong star who plays Mulan's regiment leader Commander Tung, also drew ire from Hong Kong protesters for his pro-China stance. Alan Horn, co-chairman and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios, in February said that the company doesn't want to be dragged into a political discussion. “I can't speak for what Yifei says in China,” he said during a roundtable session with other entertainment executives. However, he did note the importance of the Chinese market, where Mulan is set to premiere on Friday. “If 'Mulan' doesn't work in China, we have a problem,” he said with a laugh.
However, the film's explicit credits to Xinjiang authorities have reignited the boycott movement. “I'm a huge fan of Disney movies and especially with a 4-year-old daughter, 'Mulan' should be a must watch for my family," Uighur American activist Ferkat Jawdat said. However, he said that he won't be watching this Disney remake. “The hypocrisy is just too amazing to fathom," he added.
The controversy has also revived calls for a boycott in Hong Kong, where the film will be released next week.
Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted, “Now, when you watch #Mulan, not only are you turning a blind eye to police brutality and racial injustice ... you're also potentially complicit in the mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs."
It just keeps getting worse! Now, when you watch #Mulan, not only are you turning a blind eye to police brutality and racial injustice (due to what the lead actors stand for), you're also potentially complicit in the mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs. #BoycottMulan https://t.co/dAMgZ6PWTD— Joshua Wong é»Âä¹ÂéÂÂ ðÂÂ· (@joshuawongcf) September 7, 2020
“Even before this became known, Hong Kong citizens have already been protesting for a year about Liu Yifei's support of police brutality,” Jeffrey Ngo, another Hong Kong activist remarked.
It's a crucial time for Disney. In August, the American entertainment conglomerate said that its net income fell dramatically after having to close theme parks temporarily and cancel theatrical releases because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Disney has high hopes for the Mulan remake, as its one of its most expensive productions ever. It is pushing limited theatrical releases in some countries and putting the movie on its Disney+ streaming service for approximately Rs.2,200 on top of the monthly subscription.