Disney's Mulan misadventure
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Disney's summer blockbuster is becoming a horror show, said Christopher Palmeri at Bloomberg. What was "supposed to be another $1 billion" megahit, the live-action remake of 1998's hugely popular animated film Mulan, is "proving to be a political hot potato." The controversy began more than a year ago, when the movie's leading actress, Liu Yifei, "voiced her support for the mainland Chinese government during Hong Kong pro-democracy protests." Complaints that Disney was catering to China's Communist Party gained steam when viewers who paid $30 to stream the film noticed "special thanks" in the closing credits to Chinese government entities in Xinjiang. That's the region where China has set up concentration camps for as many as a million Uighurs, a Muslim minority. The revelation prompted calls for a boycott, even as "the coronavirus knocked out Mulan's chances of getting a successful run in theaters." Now China, in a backlash against the backlash, has refused to allow its media to promote the film, which earned a meager $23 million in its Chinese theatrical debut.
Disney deserves a boycott, said Jeff Jacoby at Jewish World Review. It has cozied up to Beijing, "subtly and not-so-subtly," for years. Back in 1998, Disney even apologized to China for making a movie about the life of the Dalai Lama. The company has since expressed "no qualms about its open and shameless collaboration with the brutes of Beijing." Seeing Disney go "out of its way to thank Chinese government propaganda agencies" in Xinjiang should offend "anyone with a functioning conscience." Indeed, Disney should have seen this coming, said Mark Magnier at the South China Morning Post. Disney arrogantly thought it could go ahead and make a film that would appeal equally to Chinese and U.S. audiences. But threading that needle has become almost impossible, given anti-China sentiment in the U.S. and growing nationalism in China. The company has "a huge and sophisticated PR machine and is probably banking on the fast-paced news cycle moving on." That doesn't seem to be happening. In fact, a bipartisan letter from U.S. lawmakers has demanded that Disney reveal "more detail on its cooperation with Xinjiang police." The Mulan setback could end cooperation on any major movie projects between the two countries for a long time. The one bright spot for Disney in this fiasco is that China's media blackout will "muzzle bad reviews" for this bland film.
Disney is another victim of the "sheer speed with which the relationships between China and the rest of the world are snapping," said James Palmer at Foreign Policy. The Mulan project began in 2015, when "the idea of a marquee blockbuster geared toward the Chinese market made sense." Yes, "there were human rights issues, but from a cynical business perspective they were fringe concerns, not blared across the front pages." Now many businesses are "struggling to adjust as the ground shifts under their feet." Now the dreams of easy profits from 1.3 billion customers are evaporating. Businesses that choose to comply with China today "can expect to find themselves hauled up before congressional committees, frozen out of U.S. government contracts, and pilloried in international media."
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.