"In an ironic plot twist, Hollywood may find itself in the perverse position of being written out of a script in which it presumed to have the leading role," writes James McKiernan in American Affairs.
Film credits are generally a boring affair, and most audiences will have stopped paying attention once the reel rolls around to the gaffer, foley, and drivers for the production. For those patient enough to sit through the credits of Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan (released in September 2020), however, there lurked a provocative acknowledgement of some unusual partners, namely eight government agencies from China’s Xinjiang province, home to at least twelve million Uighurs. These agencies included the Publicity Department of Xinjiang and the Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security, the latter of which was sanctioned in October 2019 for human rights abuses. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and former secretary Mike Pompeo both have explicitly called the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighurs “genocide,”1 one of the few points on which the Biden and Trump administrations readily agree.
Disney’s president of film production, Sean Bailey, defended the studio’s Xinjiang partnerships in writing to British politicians, boasting of the film’s “inclusivity” and shifting responsibility for controversial decisions to its local partner, the aptly named Beijing Shadow Times Culture Company.2 Even staunch Hollywood ally Variety was evidently unconvinced by Disney’s claim of innocence, noting that, at the time of preproduction and filming, “the campaign against Uighurs would have been nearly impossible to ignore . . . if only because of the extreme surveillance that travelers there would have been subject to wherever they went, and the visibly growing systems of checkpoints and security checks.”3
Compare this episode with Disney’s activist stance on U.S. political issues. In 2016, Disney threatened to stop all production in Georgia, in the middle of active filming for its latest blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy outside Atlanta, if Georgia passed religious liberty legislation that would have lessened protections for LGBT individuals within the state.4 The campaign was successful, and the governor of Georgia vetoed the bill. Disney was the first major movie studio to take this stance, and the company justified its decision on ethical grounds: “Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”5