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Mulan boycott explained: Disney remake's connection to Xinjiang, Hong Kong protests

Members of Congress are now demanding answers from Disney.

Mulan launched on Sept. 4 on Disney Plus. 

Disney

Mulan, Disney's latest live-action remake of a beloved '90s animated classic, has divided critics. Some have lauded its spectacle and thematic resonance, while others criticized its middling characters and storyline. But it's also dividing social media, with many calling for a boycott of the new flick, which is available on Disney Plus for $30. In fact, enough of a stir was caused for Disney's chief financial officer to respond, and for members of Congress to send a letter to Disney demanding answers.

The boycott centers on two Chinese issues: The treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang region -- where some of the film was shot -- and China's crackdown of freedoms in Hong Kong.

As noted by novelist Jeanette Ng in a Monday tweet, the credits in Mulan show a "Special Thanks" to the "Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee." That's the propaganda wing of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Xinjiang government, where it's been estimated that over a million Uyghur Muslims have been forced into re-education camps

Claiming to be battling religious fundamentalism and separatism, the Chinese Communist Party has ordered Uyghur Muslims into these camps, which are reported to involve cheap labor under the guise of re-education and the forced learning of Mandarin, for offenses including praying or growing a beard

The credits also thank the Bureau of Public Security in Turpan, a municipality within Xinjiang, which in October was sanctioned by the US government under its Entities List for human rights violations. Some have tweeted -- to thousands of retweets -- that supporting Mulan is tantamount to being complicit in these human rights violations. 

Disney's head of finance, Christine McCarthy, responded to the controversy, saying that the criticism is overblown and that only small portions of the film were shot in Xinjiang.

"The real facts are that Mulan was primarily shot -- almost in entirety -- in New Zealand," she said Thursday at a Bank of America virtual conference, reports 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."

"So, in our credits, it recognized both China and locations in New Zealand. I would just leave it at that, but it has generated a lot of issues for us."

On Friday, members of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China sent a bipartisan letter to Disney asking about the company's relationship with security and propaganda authorities responsible for atrocities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 

"Disney's apparent cooperation with officials of the People's Republic of China (PRC) who are most responsible for committing atrocities -- or for covering up those crimes -- is profoundly disturbing," the letter reads. "The decision to film parts of Mulan in the XUAR, in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide."

The letter, singed by members of Congress including Sens. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Jeff Merkley and Ted Cruz, asks Disney to describe its cooperation with the entities during Mulan's filming, and to explain "the extent to which officers and senior executives of The Walt Disney Company were aware of reports contemporaneous with the filming of Mulan that the PRC and CCP were carrying out a campaign of mass surveillance and detention against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR," among other demands.

The other cause for concern are comments made by Mulan's leading actress, Yifei Liu, in August 2019. "I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong," she posted on Weibo. 

Sparked two months earlier by an extradition bill that would give mainland China's courts power over sensitive Hong Kong legal cases, the protests in Hong Kong were hitting a new peak when Liu made the statement on Weibo. Those who opposed the movement often did so not by outright supporting China, but by aligning with the police force's calls for violent protests to stop. 

"It's obviously a very complicated situation and I'm not an expert. I hope this all gets resolved soon," she said in a follow-up interview with Entertainment Weekly

Hong Kong activist and politician Joshua Wong brought up Liu's comments on Sept. 4, when the movie launched on Disney Plus, encouraging "everyone who believes in human rights to #BoycottMulan." The tweet has over 28,000 retweets. 

Disney was reached for comment but didn't immediately respond.