On paper, a live-action remake of “Mulan” was an obvious choice for the Walt Disney Co.’s next blockbuster. The studio has generated billions in box office sales by rebooting its animated classics for the big screen, and this one had a clear advantage: a massive audience in China.
But the film has became a political flashpoint in the run-up to its release in mainland China this weekend, by far the biggest theatrical market for the movie.
Ahead of “Mulan’s” Disney+ premiere last week in the U.S., #BoycottMulan trended on social media as activists blasted its Chinese American star Yifei Liu (a.k.a. Crystal Liu) for siding with Hong Kong police over pro-democracy protesters last year during a crackdown on demonstrations.
The online uproar escalated this week when it was revealed that Disney filmed part of “Mulan” in Xinjiang, a region where China is believed to have detained at least 1 million Muslims — mostly ethnic Uighurs — in internment camps.
To critics, the rollout of “Mulan” marks the latest example of Hollywood’s hypocrisy and willingness to sacrifice values to do business in China.
“In L.A., there’s a focus on freedom of expression,” said University of Virginia media studies professor Aynne Kokas, author of the book “Hollywood Made in China.” “Then we cross borders, and the democracy struggle in Hong Kong is erased, as are the human rights abuses in Xinjiang.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) pounced on the revelation that Disney, in the end credits for “Mulan,” gave “special thanks” to government entities including the Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee. Hawley, who previously criticized the NBA for “kowtowing to Beijing,” on Wednesday published a letter addressed to Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek, accusing the company of “whitewashing” the “ongoing Uighur genocide.” Republican politicians have frequently attacked Hollywood and China amid the Trump administration’s trade war with Beijing.
“Your decision to put profit over principle, to not just ignore the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] genocide and other atrocities but to aid and abet them, is an affront to American values,” Hawley wrote in the letter.