Disney has pulled an episode of The Simpsons referencing Chinese labour camps from its Hong Kong streaming service in an apparent bid to improve relations with Beijing, according to analysts.
The episode, titled One Angry Lisa, may have been “proactively scrubbed” from Disney+ by the US company “out of concern for its business in mainland China, which includes its theme parks”, Kenny Ng, associate professor at the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University, told the Financial Times.
First shown in the US in October, the episode features a scene in which Marge Simpson “takes a virtual exercise bike class with an instructor in front of a virtual background of the Great Wall of China”, said Politico. The instructor says: “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labour camps where children make smartphones, and romance.”
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The quip appears to be a reference to reports in Western media that hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority Uyghur Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang have been forced into manual labour.
The hit cartoon series “has been shown on and off in mainland China since the early 2000s”, said the BBC, but “censorship of Western TV is commonplace” and “critics say this pattern has been increasing in Hong Kong”.
In 2021, the Chinese terrority passed censorship laws forbidding broadcasts that might breach a broad national security law imposed by Beijing. That same year, Disney’s Hong Kong offices removed a 2005 episode of The Simpsons that made a reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
The pulling of a second Simpsons episode, said Axios, “comes at a critical time for relations between Disney and the ruling Chinese Communist Party”, which is “beginning to allow Disney films back into its theatres after banning most of its most popular hits during the pandemic”.
In response to a request for comment, the Hong Kong government told the FT that the film censorship system forbidding films that “might endanger national security” did “not apply to streaming services”. The government did not comment on whether it had asked Disney to remove the cartoon.
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