Following the Mulan controversy, a look at how Disney has tweaked content to suit Chinese law

Mulan is facing boycott due to actor Liu Yifei support of the Hong Kong police attacking pro-democracy protestors in 2019, as well as, its shooting in China's Xinjiang province where Muslim Uighurs are said to be detained.

FP Staff September 09, 2020 15:51:56 IST
Following the Mulan controversy, a look at how Disney has tweaked content to suit Chinese law

Disney’s latest live adaptation offering Mulan had a delayed-release on Disney+ recently. The film is also being screened in territories where cinemas have reopened.

However, the fantasy drama is now facing boycott due to actor Liu Yifei public support of the Hong Kong police attacking pro-democracy protestors in 2019, as well as, its shooting in China's Xinjiang province where Muslim Uighurs are reportedly said to be detained.

(Also read on Firstpost —Calls to boycott Mulan reemerges in Hongkong, Taiwan after its Disney+ release)

Social media users noticed that Disney had thanked Chinese officials in the film's edit credits, including the public security bureau in the city of Turpan and the "publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee," BBC reports.

Following the Mulan controversy a look at how Disney has tweaked content to suit Chinese law

A still from Mulan | Image from Twitter

The bureau in Turpan reportedly runs "re-education" drives of the Uighur population in detention camps, while the publicity department handles state approved propaganda.  The studio is yet to comment on the locations and the credits row.

Disney has had a history of disagreements over the content of their films with China. The country with its vast population is often deemed integral to the American film industry's box office. According to PEN America, the Chinese box office was (before the coronavirus outbreak) estimated to be around $15.5 billion. The sheer financial power that the Chinese market holds over Hollywood, often leads studios, including Disney, to tweak their content or face a blanket ban.

In 1997, Chinese officials shunned the studio for backing Martin Scorsese's Kundun, focusing on the life of exiled Tibetan monk Dalai Lama, and the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Scorsese and screenwriter Melissa Mathison were even banned from entering the country.

Following the Mulan controversy a look at how Disney has tweaked content to suit Chinese law

A still from Kundun | Image from Twitter @IndieWire

They were also displeased by Columbia's Brad Pitt-starrer Seven Years in Tibet and MGM's Red Star. Beijing completely banned work with these three studios saying the films "viciously attack China {and} hurt Chinese people's feelings," according to a 1997 The Washington Post report.

This conflict consequently delayed the release of the 1998 classic animation Mulan. Disney called for truce by purchasing foreign distribution rights of two Chinese films, signed a Chinese performance company for the European release of Mulan, and signed a deal for setting up of a theme park.

Following the Mulan controversy a look at how Disney has tweaked content to suit Chinese law

Mulan (1998) | Image from Twitter

Mulan was screened in limited capacity in 1999, and only managed to rake in a meagre collection compared to Disney's previous animated film The Lion King. The government chose to showcase Mulan after the Chinese Lunar Year holiday, in an effort to promote homegrown films over foreign ones. The timing of the release, as a BBC report states, was the reason behind the poor reception.

The 2013 Marvel Studios superhero film Iron-Man 3 had an additional four minutes of footage in China. ScreenRant says the film earned $64.5 million in the opening weekend from this territory alone.

Following the Mulan controversy a look at how Disney has tweaked content to suit Chinese law

Robert Downey Jr in Iron-Man 3 | Image from YouTube

Iron-Man 3 was initially announced to be co-financed by Chinese firm DMG Entertainment. In the collaboration's unveiling, Disney cited the primary reason as being "the importance of this [Chinese] audience to Disney and the local industry capability to deliver a blockbuster title," but it was a sure-fire way of Iron-Man 3's release in the Chinese market.

The co-production plan fell through as Disney would have to compromise on its creative independence, writes ScreenRant, so instead they chose to add some extra footage featuring China's popular actors Wang Xueqi (who played Dr Wu in the film) and Fan Bingbing.

Benedict Cumberbatch's 2016 Doctor Strange came under fire for casting Tilda Swinton as a the Ancient One, a Celtic mystic – adhering to the longstanding practice in Hollywood of whitewashing Asian characters. Director Scott Derrickson explained this as a move to avoid Asian stereotypes, but the film's co-writer C Robert Cargill said the casting decision was made to avoid run-ins with the Chinese government.

Following the Mulan controversy a look at how Disney has tweaked content to suit Chinese law

Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One | Image from Twitter

"The Ancient One was a racist stereotype who comes from a region of the world that is in a very weird political place. He originates from Tibet, so if you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that he's Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people who think that that's bulls**t and risk the Chinese government going, 'Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We're not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.' If we decide to go the other way and cater to China in particular and have him be in Tibet... if you think it's a good idea to cast a Chinese actress as a Tibetan character, you are out of your damn fool mind and have no idea what the f**k you're talking about," he had said in an appearance on the Double Toasted podcast.

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