Disney walks US-China tightrope with ‘Mulan’ and loses its balance

Disney walks US-China tightrope with ‘Mulan’ and loses its balance

  • The Hollywood studio is battling critics, Covid-19 and its own questionable decisions
  • Disney is latest US company to be called out for callousness and myopia regarding Xinjiang human rights issues

The Walt Disney Company, an empire built on sparkle and dreams, finds itself grappling with a nightmare largely of its own making with the release of Mulan even as the controversy underscores how few areas remain exempt from US-China enmity.

Film and China analysts said on Friday that cooperation on major film projects between the world’s two largest economies was highly unlikely for the foreseeable future as trans-Pacific tensions hit fever pitch and Disney gets raked over the coals.

Disney has been roundly criticised for filming in China’s far western Xinjiang region, where up to 1 million Uygurs are being held in detention camps, and for thanking eight Xinjiang government agencies, including public security agencies involved in the Uygur crackdown, for their help in the film’s production.

“It’s baffling. If anything, it really perhaps speaks to how out of touch perhaps Disney was,” Rebecca Davis, Beijing bureau chief of Variety, Hollywood’s premier trade magazine, said during a panel discussion sponsored by the Wilson Centre. “Any major US-China co-production is on ice because it’s impossible politically.”

The US$200 million live action film – based on a traditional Chinese story about a girl named Mulan who disguises herself as a man and heads into battle in lieu of her ailing father, proving herself an outstanding fighter – which is a remake of a 1998 animated version, has faced several other hurdles.