Disney defended its decision to work with select government entities in the Xinjiang region of China in order to film scenes for its recent live-action feature, “Mulan,” saying it had no choice but to cooperate with groups accused of human rights abuses — even those accused of ethnic cleansing of the country’s Uyghur population — in order to film specific scenes.
Business Week reports that Disney recently responded to an inquiry letter, sent by two members of the British Parliament, questioning why Disney would consider filming in Xinjiang, given that the region appears to be home to a massive network of concentration camps designed to relocate and “re-educate” the country’s ethnic Muslims.
Disney said it had no choice but to work with government entities in Xinjiang if it wanted to keep the film “authentic.”
“There are regulations that must be followed by all foreign film production companies wanting to operate in China,” Disney film studio president Sean Bailey, said in his letter. “These companies are not allowed to operate independently and must partner with a Chinese production company which is responsible for securing all film permits.”
“The decision to film in each of these locations was made by the film’s producers to film in the interest of authenticity, and was in no way influenced or dictated by state or local Chinese officials,” he added.
Disney made no effort to publicize its involvement with the Chinese government in Xinjiang, but, according to Business Week, “eagle-eyed” viewers spotted “thank you” messages to Xinjiang officials as the credits rolled on “Mulan.”
“Within hours of its release, eagle-eyed viewers saw that the company thanked several entities in Xinjiang, where the government has been accused of oppressing the country’s Muslim-minority Uighurs,” Business Week notes.
“Disney said the film is a celebration of female empowerment, based on a 1,500-year-old Chinese poem,” the outlet adds. “The scenes in Xinjiang amount to just 78 seconds, and were done to capture the region’s dramatic desert scenery and the historic Silk Road. Most of the movie was shot in New Zealand.”
Disney likely tried to maintain a cozy relationship with the Chinese government in order to win the approval of “Mulan” for wide release in China. In the United States, the film debuted on Disney’s streaming network, Disney+, but had to be released in theaters in China, where Disney+ doesn’t operate.
The decision is particularly ironic given that the company, through its now-former CEO Bob Iger, indirectly threatened to pull the company’s production apparatus from Georgia if the state passed a controversial ban on abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
Iger told reporters that Disney would find it difficult to continue to work in the state under such deplorable conditions. “I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard. Right now we are watching it very carefully,” he said. Adding that he did not “see how it’s practical for us to continue to shoot there,” per The Hollywood Reporter.
According to Forbes magazine, the movie wasn’t a box office success in China.
“The film generated $23.2 million in its opening weekend at the mainland China box office, sinking below analysts’ estimates that it would rake in $30 million to $40 million. Early indications suggest the movie’s reception in Hong Kong will be underwhelming too,” Fortune reported. “The film’s mainland China debut was considered a failure not just because it missed analysts’ expectations, but also because Disney had poured five years and $200 million into the film, in part, to ensure it appealed to a Chinese audience. Disney cast actors popular in China, hired Chinese consultants, shared the script with Chinese authorities, and cut scenes that Chinese test audiences didn’t like.”
Unfortunately for Disney, pirated versions of the movie leaked to Chinese viewers, who panned the film on Chinese social media.
In all, the movie took in just $67 million in China, $40 million less than the live-action remake of “The Lion King.”
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