Why Disney’s ‘Mulan’ Remake Has Sparked Calls For A Boycott

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The liveaction Mulan remake has become the centre of a lot of controversy since its release.  

People are incredibly angry about politically problematic aspects of the film and calls to boycott it have spread through social media.  

I want to take a look at what went wrong with Mulan, and what’s driving the current movement against it. 

Profit Over Human Rights?

The political problems with Mulan started surfacing on social media almost immediately after it was released on Disney+ 

The credits for the movie include thanks for propaganda departments in China and a public security bureau in Xinjiang – the region where more than a million Uighur Muslims have been imprisoned in concentration camps and are subject to a number of abuses, including forced sterilisation.  

Part of Mulan was filmed in Xinjiang and one Twitter user even pointed out all of the concentration camps that the filming crew could have been near while they were shooting in the area.  

The decision to film there is being seen as Disney explicitly ignoring human rights abuses and prioritising profit.  

Washington Post Journalist Isaac Stone Fish, basically described the situation as: Disney working with a region where genocide is happening and then thanking the departments that are helping to carry it out.  

That perception of Disney’s choices has really contributed to this online backlash.  

Dr Jinyang Young: I think the online response has been hugely positive. Just everyone talking about this controversy in Xinjiang … it’s really, really amazing that now this film has become sort of like this symbol of, ‘how far is Hollywood willing to go’, right? 

That’s Dr Jinyang Young, she’s a writer and playwright from Hong Kong who’s written a lot about how Mulan has been marred by political controversy.   

A Symbol For Ideological Conflict

But the association with Xinjiang isn’t Mulan’s only political problem.  

There was huge backlash last year after the star of Mulan, Liu Yifei spoke out against the protestors in Hong Kong and voiced her support for Hong Kong police.  

Yifei’s comments back then, sparked the #boycottMulan movement that’s been reignited now with the film’s release.   

Young told me it’s not unusual to expect that a Chinese actor would voice their support for the Chinese Communist Party’s actions, but the timing of Mulan’s release really compounds these issues 

Young lives in Hong Kong and she said that the climate of pro-democracy conflict, followed by the new draconian national security laws, have made Mulan a bit of a lightning rod for controversy. 

JY: What a year it’s been for us here, you know. It’s huge political turmoil – veryvery traumatic things going on in terms of our rights being eradicated and stripped from us.  

The tension between China and Western nations has seriously ramped up during the pandemic. Last week, the last two Australian reporters working in China for major news outlets were forced to leave because of fears they were going to be detained by Chinese police.  

Young believes that the #boycottMulan movement should be supported. But she also said that the movie has really just become a symbol for ideological conflict between China and the West, and that it’s highlighting how much Hollywood is willing to bend to China 

JY: In terms of the #boycottMulan movement, I think yes, it’s important. But it’s more important in the wider context of what we’re discussing with it as a whole – as a whole discussion about, how far is the West willing to go to sacrifice its integrity for money’.” 

The Takeaway 

The controversies surrounding Mulan have been driven by some intense political turmoil and there are good reasons to pay attention to how the film has been made.  

But ultimately, the film is just a symbolic battleground where a lot of the arguments that have already been happening about Chinese censorship and human rights abuses are playing out in an extremely mainstream way.