Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of clay Magazine or TPS.
The issue of Disney’s live-action Mulan has become the topic of many headlines recently. The long-anticipated film was greeted with mixed reactions. At first, many were excited for the cinematography and empowering message the remake of the beloved cartoon promised. But as the movie was released on Disney+ and then in theaters, many noticed a sinister problem behind the film. From the lead actress’ political opinions to the location it was filmed, Disney’s live-action Mulan raises questions about China’s human rights issues. This problem drew intense criticism from activists, politicians, and other public figures such twitter users associated with #BoycottMulan.
What exactly are they angry about? Initially the film sparked criticism from Hong Kong protesters months before it was released when lead actress Liu Yifei stated her support for the city’s police. Over the last year of riots and protests against tightening control on Hong Kong from the mainland Chinese government, the police have repeatedly been accused of brutality and injustice. As a new national security law was enacted in June, many prominent pro-democracy protesters were arrested, including Agnes Chow, co-founder along with Joshua Wong of the pro-democracy party Demosisto. Following her arrest, many hailed her as the “real Mulan,” calling her a better example of courage and virtue than the movie’s lead actress.
Later, when the film finally came out after suspense had built for months of COVID-19 related delays, viewers noticed the film’s credits thanked eight different government entities in Xinjiang province, including the Turpan Public Security Bureau and the Chinese Communist Party Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee. In fact, most of the movie was filmed in China’s Xinjiang province. There, the government detained over a million ethnic Muslim minorities in extra-judicial internment camps under the pretext of re-education and terrorist oppression. The region was transformed into a police state with high-tech surveillance and a policy of intense religious and cultural suppression. Many of the government entities thanked in the movie’s credits are deeply involved in the region’s vast system of oppression. Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted, “It just keeps getting worse! Now, when you watch Mulan, not only are you turning a blind eye to police brutality and racial injustice (due to what the lead actors stand for), you’re also potentially complicit in the mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs.” Joshua Wong was later arrested on September twenty-fourth. Many other public figures from across the world have also stated their criticisms of the film for the same reasons.
Unfortunately, this film is yet another example of the way big businesses like Disney tend to push aside issues of injustice in favor of profit. The film, which featured many famous China-born actors, was tailored to please Chinese audiences. However, the film did not have the reception in China that was expected as many were also dissatisfied with the movie’s representation of Chinese culture. After the international criticism over Mulan’s filming location, China barred media coverage of the movie. How might potential viewers across the world approach this difficult subject? The goal of the Boycott Mulan movement is not about policing what movies viewers should watch, but rather encouraging them to be aware and take action. Choosing not to see the movie is one step, and many other options exist, from writing to political representatives to personally attending protests. In the end, the movie’s connection with China’s human rights issues is a bigger cause of concern then the lack of a talking dragon.
“Agnes Chow: Hong Kong Activist Hailed as the ‘Real Mulan’.” BBC News, BBC, 12 Aug. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-53746867.
“Exclusive: China Bars Media Coverage of Disney’s ‘Mulan’ after Xinjiang Backlash – Sources.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 10 Sept. 2020, mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN2611FP.
McLaughlin, Timothy. “How History Gets Rewritten.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 8 Sept. 2020, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2020/09/hong-kong-protests-propaganda/616135/.
O’Kane, Caitlin. “‘Boycott Mulan’ Trends on Twitter after Credits Reveal Region of China Where Movie Was Filmed.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 9 Sept. 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/boycott-mulan-china-uyghur-muslims-xinjian-hong-kong/.
Qin, Amy, and Edward Wong. “Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/world/asia/china-mulan-xinjiang.html.
Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, Danielle Cave. “Uyghurs for Sale.” ASPI, 1 Mar. 2020, www.aspi.org.au/report/uyghurs-sale.
@joshuawongcf. “It just keeps getting worse! Now, when you watch #Mulan, not only are you turning a blind eye to police brutality and racial injustice (due to what the lead actors stand for), you’re also potentially complicit in the mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs. #BoycottMulan.” 7 Sep. 2020, 9:28 AM.,https://twitter.com/joshuawongcf/status/1302795856786137093
Davidson, Helen. “Pro-Democracy Leader Joshua Wong Arrested in Hong Kong.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 24 Sept. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/24/pro-democracy-leader-joshua-wong-arrested-in-hong-kong.