US lawmakers quiz Disney CEO over Xinjiang link to Mulan, which opens to lukewarm reception in China

Beyond the film's many cultural crossover mistakes, US film-makers face a larger problem of changing Chinese tastes and being caught up in Sino-US tensions.
Beyond the film's many cultural crossover mistakes, US film-makers face a larger problem of changing Chinese tastes and being caught up in Sino-US tensions.PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - A group of bipartisan United States lawmakers has urged Walt Disney Co chief executive officer Bob Chapek to explain the company's connection with "security and propaganda" authorities of China's Xinjiang region during the production of live-action war epic Mulan.

Disney's US$200 million (S$274 million) live-action remake of its animated classic about a female warrior in ancient China has run into controversy for being partly filmed in the Xinjiang region, where China's clampdown on ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims has been criticised by some governments, including the US government and human rights groups.

"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 Republican senators and representatives wrote in last Friday's (Sept 11)  letter.

It urged Disney to make a detailed explanation.

The letter was retweeted by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), which monitors human rights and the rule of law and submits an annual report to US President Donald Trump and Congress.

Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawmakers, including former presidential candidate Marco Rubio, a Republican senator who co-chairs the CECC, said information on Beijing's role in the detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang was all over the media before the filming of Mulan.

"The decision to film parts of Mulan in cooperation with the local security and propaganda elements offers tacit legitimacy to those perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide."

China's foreign ministry has repeatedly denied the existence of re-education camps in the region, calling the facilities vocational and educational institutions and accusing what it calls anti-China forces of smearing its Xinjiang policy.

 
 
 

Meanwhile,the film, out on Disney's streaming service in many markets, was released in China to a lukewarm reception last Friday. It earned 46 million yuan (S$9.2 million) at the box office by 8pm - a slow start compared with other blockbusters. The film is battling mixed reviews, Covid-19 curbs on cinemas and a government ban on major media coverage amid international calls for a boycott.

By comparison, The Eight Hundred, a patriotic movie about China's fight against Imperial Japanese during World War II, earned 141.3 million yuan on its first full day last month.

Mulan has provoked a backlash on overseas social media over its star Liu Yifei's support of Hong Kong police and for being partly filmed in the Xinjiang region.

Online reviewers in China also seemed more concerned about the plot than the politics. It was rated 4.7 out of 10 on China's popular social media site Douban. Others pointed out historical inaccuracies, including the use of buildings that appeared only hundreds of years after the film's setting.