Disney ignores China’s human rights violations with Mulan release

Honk Kong activists are pushing to boycott Disney’s Mulan remake as the company ignores China’s violations of human rights in the Xinjiang province.  

Disney has been battling waves of controversy surrounding its ties to China since the Hong Kong protests erupted last year.

Its latest film, a remake of the 1998 animated classic Mulan, has just been released on Disney Plus and activists have been urging people not to endorse Disney by purchasing or watching the film, using the hashtag #BoycottMulan across Twitter.

The lead actress Liu Yifei expressed adamant support for the Chinese state last summer, sharing a message on Weibo that read ‘I support Hong Kong’s police, you can beat me up now’.

What’s more, a large chunk of the movie was filmed in the Xinjiang province where the state is thought to be detaining millions of Muslim Uighurs in concentration camps. Reports of forced labour and mass sterilisation have been slowly leaking out to the wider world and China insists it’s ‘fake news’. This is a serious breach of human rights, yet Disney thanks a government security agency from the region during Mulan’s end credits and fails to mention any of the recent news.

Joshua Wong is one of the most prominent figures involved with Hong Kong’s protests and tweeted that he ‘urges everyone who believes in human rights’ to avoid the film. It’s the latest example of a massive corporation opting to favour China’s vast profit and revenue potential over the democratic rights of its citizens.

We’ve already seen other brands like gaming giant Blizzard and the NBA punish their staff for vocally supporting Hong Kong protestors. Even Apple banned HK Map Live, an app used by activists to orchestrate protests, late last year. Disney has similarly been hesitant to engage with the civil unrest and upheaval, instead taking a meek approach that washes its hands of any meaningful engagement.

Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in February and said that Disney is ‘non-political, apolitical when it comes to all this stuff’. By ‘all this stuff’ he of course means the removal of basic rights in Hong Kong, the forced quarantine of over 1 million Uighurs in re-education camps, and the increasingly dystopian monitoring of Chinese citizens.

It’s continually disappointing to see international entertainment companies pander to Chinese markets for the sake of growth and profit. This re-ignited Twitter protest against Disney is a valiant effort to turn the tide, but its huge global gravitas makes it difficult to truly disrupt how the company operates.

Mulan was clearly intended to appeal to China’s mainland population too. The film was re-worked to appease Chinese censors and a love scene was removed to ensure the final product reached international audiences. Disney hasn’t made much of an effort to hide these behaviours and by ignoring the civil unrest it has become complicit with China.

The only way to truly reach Disney is by avoiding the film. It’ll be tough to squander the overall sales and streams of Mulan but a vocal minority is still important and worth listening to. Until we hold companies accountable and demand more they’ll continue to shy away – democracy should always trump commerce.

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