A bipartisan group of US 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 some scenes from the US$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 on Friday.
The lawmakers, including Republican US Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, Democratic US Senator Jeff Merkley, as well as US Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican, said 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 lightning rod, with US 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 (劉亦菲), who plays the titular character, said she supported the Hong Kong police over pro-democracy protesters in the territory. A #BoycottMulan campaign began on Twitter.
After the film was made available for purchase online on Friday last week in the US and Europe, attention was drawn to the credits, where Disney thanked several local authorities in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government runs the camps that it calls “voluntary re-education centers,” and has banned religious names for children and observing Ramadan.
Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to requests for a comment made after business hours.
Disney chief financial officer Christine McCarthy on Thursday said that Disney shot the film mostly in New Zealand.
About 20 locations in China were also used to better capture the geography of the country.
It is customary to thank local governments in the credits, McCarthy said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has already had a long and expensive struggle to get Mulan before audiences. With theaters in the US still largely closed, Mulan was offered to Disney+ subscribers for US$30.
The uproar has coincided a sharp decline in relations between the US and China, with US President Donald Trump making denunciations of the Chinese government a central theme of his re-election campaign.
Earlier this week, the Trump administration said it had banned imports from three companies in Xinjiang 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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