Disney’s newest live-action movie “Mulan” was released Friday. So far, reviews have ranged from mostly positive to absolutely glowing: “an exciting, well-crafted action movie,” a “robust” and “family-friendly, live-action Disney fantasy,” and an “epic-scale tribute to female empowerment.”
However, the feedback on Mulan has chilled considerably after reports that Disney filmed substantial portions of the movie in China’s Xinjiang province, with the blessing and cooperation of the Chinese Communist government.
Xinjiang is the home province of some 12 million Muslim Uighurs that live in China. According to the U. S. State Department, over one million of them have been moved to concentration camps where, and I quote, “they are starved, abused, tortured, electrocuted, raped and even killed.” Uighur women have been “forcibly sterilized . . . [and] made to use intrusive birth control methods.” There have even been reports of forced abortions and even infanticide.
Yet, not only did Disney choose Xinjiang province, “ground zero” for China’s savage persecution of the Muslim Uighur population to film “Mulan,” in the closing credits, they thanked four Communist Party propaganda departments and a public security bureau in Xinjiang—the very organizations, as the Washington Post reports, “that are facilitating [these] crimes against humanity.”
Calling the treatment of the Uighur population in China “crimes against humanity” may sound harsh, but it is fitting. In fact, what’s been happening in Xinjiang fits the United Nations’ official definition of genocide: the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” This can include “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction,” and “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”
To be clear, Disney has chosen to cozy up to the Chinese government for years. In 1997, a Disney film that cast the Dalai Lama in a positive light so upset the totalitarians in Beijing, they “restricted the studio’s ability to work in China.” Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner quickly issued an apology and promised not to insult Disney’s “friends” in the future. Appeased, Beijing opened the doors for Shanghai Disneyland, which opened in 2016. “Mulan” has handed Beijing a propaganda victory.
Given their strong stands on behalf of progressive causes such as LGBT issues and abortion, Disney seems more guilty of a bad worldview than spinelessness. In 2016, for example, Disney threatened to stop filming in the state of Georgia after the legislature passed a bill protecting religious liberty in the wake of same-sex marriage. And, Disney’s current CEO said he would find it “very difficult” to continue filming in Georgia after the state passed a fetal heartbeat bill to protect the lives of the unborn. Many don’t realize just how lucrative film and television is in Georgia, much less the tax and other financial incentives Georgia now has in place for studios, directors, and others in the industry. In 2018 alone, the state reported about $9.5 billion in revenue from the film and television industries.
Why then, would Disney be willing to put the economic screws to a U.S. state over abortion and LGBT rights, but not to a Communist dictatorship over human-rights violations and even genocide?
While Beijing clearly doesn’t care about world opinion, too much world opinion cares about China… especially China’s money. Having propped up its authority for so long on economic promises, the only pressure China is likely to take seriously is financial. Nations like Japan and India, and even some corporations like Apple, have taken a stand and moved business out of China. Disney, on the other hand, gave China a great big PR win instead.
I’m usually not much for boycotting as a strategy, but my family will not be watching “Mulan.” In fact, the boycott of “Mulan” seems to be spreading, especially in Asia. I hope it spreads in our country too, as a way of putting action to all of our words about human dignity, human value, and human rights. No amount of money will ever make acceptable the treatment that Muslim Uighurs face at the hands of the Chinese government.