Disney hoped that the live-action Mulan would open new doors for the studio in China, working with the Chinese government to release an international blockbuster starring several A-list Chinese actors. But after all that effort, the film still found itself on the wrong side of Chinese government censorship. According to a new report from Reuters, Chinese media outlets have been told not to cover Mulan, which comes out in China this Friday.
Until recently, Mulan was being promoted as normal in China. The movie even had government support due to the controversy over lead actress Yifei Liu's comments about the Hong Kong riots. After she voiced support for Hong Kong police, people who supported the protests promised to #BoycottMulan. So government-backed sources naturally supported the movie in response. But at the last moment before Mulan's Chinese release date, the mood changed. This is reportedly due to the negative overseas coverage of Mulan filming in Xinjiang, a region where human rights abuses are being perpetrated against Uighur Muslims.
Over the past few years the Chinese government has interned over a million Muslims in concentration camps, and there have been reports of torture, sexual abuse, and slave labor. Most of this took place in Xinjiang, where Disney filmed part of Mulan. This crackdown ramped up in 2018, after members of the Mulan production team had already been in China for months. By the time the film came out on Disney+ last week, several Chinese propaganda and security departments were actually thanked in the film's credits, which helped to bring this issue to the public's attention.
These controversial links to Xinjiang attracted a lot of criticism overseas. And while the Chinese government didn't give a reason for the sudden media blackout on Mulan coverage, Reuters sources believe it was due to this backlash.
However, the film is still due for theatrical release this weekend in China. It hasn't received especially positive reviews from Chinese viewers, but it still accounts for 55% of movie tickets sold this Friday. That's a significant percentage, although from Disney's perspective it's already problematic because Chinese movie theaters are offering limited capacity due to COVID-19.
So far Disney hasn't publicly commented on the ethical question of choosing to film Mulan in Xinjiang. But yesterday Disney CFO Christine McCarthy did say that the controversy "has generated a lot of issues" for the studio.