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Within hours of Mulan’s release, eagle-eyed viewers saw that Disney had thanked several entities in Xinjiang. Photo: Disney via AP

Disney says it had to work with Chinese government on Mulan

  • In letter to British politicians, company defends its cooperation with entities accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang
  • Disney says scenes in region amount to just 78 seconds – most of the movie was shot in New Zealand

Walt Disney defended its cooperation with government entities accused of human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, saying the company had to work with the government to make films there.

“There are regulations that must be followed by all foreign film production companies wanting to operate in China,” Sean Bailey, president of Disney’s film studio, said in an October 7 letter to two British politicians. “These companies are not allowed to operate independently and must partner with a Chinese production company which is responsible for securing all film permits.”

Disney released Mulan, a US$200 million live-action remake of the company’s 1998 animated hit, last month. With the pandemic keeping many people in the US and Europe out of cinemas, the company made the film available for US$30 to subscribers of its Disney+ streaming service.

Within hours of its release, eagle-eyed viewers saw that the company thanked several entities in Xinjiang, where the government has been accused of oppressing the country’s Muslim-minority Uygurs.

The letter was addressed to Iain Duncan Smith, a member of the House of Commons, and Baroness Helena Kennedy, of the House of Lords, and it came in response to their query. Duncan Smith released it on Twitter.

Disney said the film is a celebration of female empowerment, based on a 1,500-year-old Chinese poem. The scenes in Xinjiang amount to just 78 seconds, and were done to capture the region’s dramatic desert scenery and the historic Silk Road. Most of the movie was shot in New Zealand.

The company said its Chinese partner Beijing Shadow Times Culture began submitting film permits in 2017, before the US or British governments had issued risk advisories or policy rulings regarding the region.

China’s new Mulan film upsets audiences more than Disney’s

“The decision to film in each of these locations was made by the film’s producers to film in the interest of authenticity, and was in no way influenced or dictated by state or local Chinese officials,” Bailey wrote.

Disney released the film theatrically in overseas markets where it does not offer the Disney+ service, and it has taken in US$66.8 million globally, two-thirds of that from China. Last year’s remake of The Lion King took in $116 million in China alone.