Walt Disney Co.’s big bet on “Mulan,” a $200 million live-action remake of a Chinese folk tale, is facing fresh criticism days after its North American streaming debut and just before its planned premiere at cinemas in China.
A newspaper columnist and some social media commentators have faulted Disney for filming in China’s Xinjiang region and for thanking government departments there in the film’s credits. As many as 1 million ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang have been detained in camps that China calls “voluntary education centers.”
“Mulan” is crucial to Disney’s recovery after the pandemic forced cinemas around the world to close or operate under tight restrictions this year, prompting delays of the originally planned March debut. The Uighur human rights issue adds to other political opposition the film has sparked, including calls for a boycott after Liu Yifei, who stars as the title character, voiced support for the police last year amid pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Disney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry told reporters Tuesday that some “anti-China forces” have been “smearing” Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. Denying the existence of “re-education camps” in Xinjiang, he said some “vocational and educational training centers” have been set up lawfully there to prevent terrorism and radicalization.
In July, the US sanctioned a top member of China’s ruling Communist Party and three other officials over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, a major escalation in the Trump administration’s tensions with the country.
Disney debuted the film in the US Sept. 4 over its recently launched Disney+ streaming service, where it’s available for a special fee of $30. Downloads of Disney’s streaming app rose 68% to 890,000 over the weekend, a sign that “Mulan” helped drive demand in a market where cinemas are still not fully reopened.
Before the pandemic, the film was expected to play big in China, with a simultaneous debut in the world’s largest movie market after the US
Now, China is the first major market to fully reopen cinemas, with “Mulan” set to debut Sept. 11 in a key test of whether moviegoers in the increasingly important market are ready to crowd back into theaters for a blockbuster.