A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers have asked Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek to explain the company’s contacts with “security and propaganda authorities” in the Xinjiang region of China during production of the live-action version of “Mulan.”
After it was learned that scenes from the $200 million film had been filmed in Xinjiang, where as many as 1 million Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims, have been forced into detention camps, a boycott campaign against the film intensified.
“Disney’s apparent cooperation with officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) who are most responsible for committing atrocities — or for covering up those crimes — is profoundly disturbing,” the representatives and senators wrote in a letter Friday.
The lawmakers, including Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, as well as Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, pointed out that the crackdown by the Beijing government in Xinjiang has long been well known, and the decision to film there “in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide.”
The letter contained several queries, one about the “use of Uighurs or other ethnic minority labor, as well as any due diligence performed to ensure that no forced labor was used during the film’s production.”
The lawmakers referred the high regard that Disney says it holds for social responsibility and added: “we seek to fully understand how you implement this commitment in the activities you undertake in China.”
The film, which was released in Chinese theaters on Friday, has become a political lightening rod, with U.S. elected officials castigating the close ties between Hollywood and the Chinese government in an increasingly heated political and economic climate.
The controversy began last year after Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei, who plays the title character, said she supported the Hong Kong police over pro-democracy protesters in the city. A #BoycottMulan campaign began on Twitter.
After the film was made available for purchase online on Sept. 4 in the U.S. and Europe, attention was drawn to the credits, where Disney thanked several local authorities in Xinjiang, where the government runs the camps that it calls “voluntary reeducation centers” and banned religious names for children and observing the traditional day-time fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to requests for a comment made after business hours.
The company’s chief financial officer, Christine McCarthy, said Thursday that Disney shot the film mostly in New Zealand. Some 20 locations in China were also used to better capture the geography of the country. It’s customary, McCarthy said, to thank local governments in the credits.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the company has already had a long and expensive struggle to get “Mulan” before audiences. With American theaters in the U.S. still largely closed, “Mulan” was offered to Disney+ subscribers — for $30.
The uproar has coincided a sharp decline in relations between the U.S. and China and with President Donald Trump making denunciations of the Beijing government a central theme of his re-election campaign.
Earlier this week, the Trump administration said it had banned imports from three companies in the Xinjiang region of China over Beijing’s alleged repression of the Uighurs, and it planned to add curbs on six more firms and target cotton, textiles and tomatoes from the area.
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