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Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing

2020-09-08 05:25:23
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Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry was the latest example of how the new film, which was released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

For months, the film has been facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan. The criticism of the movie this week also points to broader concerns about China’s aggressive efforts to assimilate minorities, leading to rapid cultural erosion.

The details of Disney’s partnership with the authorities in Xinjiang are unclear. The company did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Tuesday morning. Calls to the regional and local propaganda departments in Xinjiang and Turpan on Tuesday also went unanswered.

The area surrounding Turpan, in addition to being known for its vast, rugged landscapes, is also the site of a number of detention camps. That includes the earliest documented case of what China has called “transformation through education” targeting Muslims, from August 2013, said Adrian Zenz, a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington who has studied Chinese policies toward the Uighurs.

The release of Disney’s original “Mulan” animated film from 1998 was delayed for a year as a result. It was not until Disney bought the foreign distribution rights to two Chinese feature films, hired a Chinese performance troupe to participate in the European release of “Mulan” and floated the idea of opening a theme park in the country that Chinese officials finally approved the release of the film in February 1999. Later that year, Disney announced plans to build a park in Hong Kong.

Disney is just the latest American company to come under fire for its affiliation with Xinjiang. In July, an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time it had closed its Xinjiang academy, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

Thermo Fisher, a Massachusetts company, has also sold medical equipment used by the police in Xinjiang to collect DNA from Uighurs for social control purposes. Last year, the company, in the wake of criticism, said it would stop selling its gear to the authorities in Xinjiang.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan”began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of kowtowing to Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region. The pro-democracy movement has become known as the #milkteaalliance, named after their shared love for the drink.

Amy Chang Chien contributed reporting.


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