Mulan: Disney Faces Congressional Scrutiny Over Chinese Production

Members of the U.S. Senate wants to know if Disney ignored a reality of human rights violations while filming Mulan.

Liu Yifei Not Singing in Mulan 2020
Photo: Disney

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is asking Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Executive Chairman Robert Iger to explain the studio’s cooperation with the authorities in the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang during the production of the Mulan live-action remake, according to NBC News. The Congressional letter is in response to allegations accusing Chinese authorities of detaining an estimated 1 million to 2 million Uighur Muslims, detained in mass internment camps in the Xinjiang region.

The legislative interest comes after Disney thanked eight government bodies in Xinjiang, a Western province, in the film’s credits. “The closing credits of Mulan extend thanks to the ‘Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security’ and the ‘Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee,’ as well as other local level XUAR propaganda elements,” according to the website of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

And as the aforementioned Congressional letter pointed out, the House of Representatives passed Senate-approved legislation to sanction China over alleged human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the country earlier this year.

“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing genocide in Xinjiang—and not just cultural genocide either,” Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-Missouri), wrote in a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek on Sept. 9. “There was a time when Beijing might have been satisfied with enslaving Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, even as it tortured them into abandoning their beliefs and swearing loyalty to the Party. But that is no longer the case. Now Beijing appears intent on destroying the Uighur people. And it has rolled out a sophisticated campaign to do just that, including by systematically sterilizing Uighur women and aborting their children.”

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He continued, “Disney’s whitewashing of the ongoing Uighur genocide is contrary to all of your company’s supposed principles. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, you wrote about the need to ‘confront the inscrutable idea that the lives of some are deemed less valuable—and less worthy of dignity, care and protection—than the lives of others.’”

The congressional letter lists a series of questions about what Disney executives knew and when they knew it. They lawmakers state they want to know what sort of local labor was used in production and what human rights policies Disney has. Earlier this week, the Trump administration said it has prepared orders to block imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over the accusations of forced labor. The letter also asks whether any contracts were signed with any of the CCP-run agencies, whether anything was received in exchange for receiving a special thanks in the credits, and whether the CCP asked for any editorial content control.

The lawmakers said they would like the briefing to include answers on whether “the Walt Disney Company agree the treatment of Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang constitutes genocide,” whether it condones “the treatment of Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang,” and whether other filming locations were discussed in advance of the movie being shot. They also question whether there is anywhere in the world Disney would refuse to work because of human rights abuses.

Earlier this year, Rubio, along with 74 other Senate and House members, urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to issue a formal determination of “the atrocity crimes, including crimes against humanity and genocide against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities in the region.”

Beijing has denied the existence of these camps several times. The Chinese government further claims the nation is fully in compliance with the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

“The real facts are that Mulan was primarily shot—almost in entirety—in New Zealand,” Disney CFO Christine McCarthy told the Bank of America Virtual 2020 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference on Sept. 10, according to Deadline. “In an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this period drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China. It’s common knowledge that in order to film in China, you have to be granted permission. That permission comes from the central government.” McCarthy added it is standard industry practice “to acknowledge in a film’s credits the national and local governments that allowed you to film there.”

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This isn’t the first time the Niki Caro-directed Mulan generated political controversy. Production opened with fears the Chinese legend it is based on would be whitewashed. In 2019, the film was hit with a #BoycottMulan movement after star Liu Yifei defended Hong Kong police in spite of their brutal treatment of pro-democracy protesters. Mulan was also one of the first theatrical releases impacted by COVID-19.

Mulan premiered on Disney+ on Sept. 4. The film was released in China on Friday, Sept. 11 and earned over $23 million during its opening weekend there.