The 1998 original animated movie “Mulan” was well received, earning the ‘Certified Fresh’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes. After nearly 22 years, we are receiving a live action adaptation of the film, and despite high expectations, the film may be attracting attention for the wrong reasons.
Viewers who stuck around for the end credits may have noticed something interesting: Disney thanked several government bodies in the Xinjiang province of China for their cooperation in filming parts of the movie. Xinjiang is a Western province in China where significant human rights violations are being committed by the government against the Uyghur Muslim ethnic group. Though the conflict can be traced back to the 1930s, it really began to attract global attention in 2016.
For decades, China has been systematically oppressing and abusing the Uyghur population in the Xinjiang region. In 2014, China launched the “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism.” The legislation was intended to combat terrorism from religious separatists, however, its function has since been warped into a tool for persecution.
As of now, there have been confirmed reports of child torture, sexual abuse, forced sterilization and internment camps, among others. In December 2019, media outlets reported on China’s “Pair up and Become Family” program.
The friendly title distracts from the true purpose of the program, which is to send Han Majority Chinese men to sleep in the same beds as Uyghur Muslim women while their husbands are in re-education camps—thereby disturbing the ethnic homogeneity of the Uyghur people. The whole program is eerily reminiscent of the Nanjing Massacre, where mass rape and murder were used by the Japanese as a tactic to demoralize China during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
According to The Guardian, parts of the “Mulan” live film were shot in Xinjiang in 2018, well after the public was made aware of the situation. There is simply no excuse for a massive media conglomerate like Disney to be unaware of the human rights violations happening just miles from their filming locations.
Worse still, the film’s credits specifically praise the police security bureau in Turpan, a city in eastern Xinjiang with a large Uyghur population. BBC reports that the bureau is in charge of running some of the Uyghur internment camps, and that the US Commerce Department has blacklisted them, prohibiting US companies from selling or supplying products to them.
All this points towards the likely scenario: Disney knew of the situation but chose not to stir the waters, so that they could keep filming in China. Though Disney was acting within its legal rights, that does not make their actions any less detestable.
Social media campaigns have sprung up in an attempt to raise awareness and condemn the film. The #BoycottMulan hashtag has been trending since last year. However, it is unclear if the social media campaign will affect the film’s reception. Regardless, the movement shows that human rights violations will not be ignored.
Moving forward, it is crucial to question how we can incentivize large companies to act more ethically, and how can we show that there will be costs for companies that remain intentionally ignorant of the situation. Corporations like Disney undoubtedly have the power to play hardball with China, but choose not to over financial interests.
In this context, playing ‘hardball’ could mean a number of things, including not filming in China, not releasing films in China, or even cutting ties with the country entirely. While these seem like reasonable first steps, it is unreasonable to expect a profit-driven company to do this of their own volition.
China is simply too large and too lucrative of a market for Disney to ignore. That is why measurable impact will only be achieved when the US government steps in to more closely regulate interactions with China.