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Mulan Controversy: What’s Up with That?

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BY September 16, 2020
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Even before its release, there have been two main stories circulating about Mulan. One is the difficulty of its release during the coronavirus pandemic. The other is about the controversy surrounding Mulan. But what’s so controversial about this movie anyway? Let’s get to the bottom of it.

The Mulan Controversy Began Before the Movie’s Release

mulan controversy image via Disney

Some of the controversy started brewing last year. That was when Mulan star Liu Yifei posted an update on the Chinese social media site Weibo. She wrote, “I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.” She was referring to the ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong, which began two months before.

The backlash was immediate. The hashtag #BoycottMulan began trending on Twitter in both the United States and Hong Kong. However, in China, where Twitter is verboten, Weibo users were more supportive of Yifei. Nevertheless, by this past February, Yifei was more circumspect. She told The Hollywood Reporter, for instance, “I think it’s obviously a very complicated situation, and I’m not an expert. I just really hope this gets resolved soon.”

The Controversy Has Only Continued

mulan controversy image via Disney

The second major controversy involving the film has only developed recently. Sharp-eyed viewers noticed peculiar acknowledgements in the credits. To wit, the filmmakers thank local government officials. On its face, that wouldn’t be weird. They thanked the bigwigs in the places they filmed–who cares?

Well, a lot of people. Since it became apparent that parts of the movie were filmed in the Xinjiang region, calls to boycott the film have only intensified. But why is the autonomous region so controversial?

According to human rights experts, Xinjiang, and in particular, Turpan, where the filming took place, is the site of reeducation camps. Specifically, these activists say that the government is holding Uighur and other Muslim minorities there. These camps are rife with abuse, they say, where former detainees describe conditions worse than prison.

The Chinese government, on the other hand, rejects the characterization of these facilities. Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in a statement, for instance, “There is no so-called reeducation camp in Xinjiang. The establishment of the vocational education and training centers in Xinjiang is a positive attempt and active exploration of preventive counterterrorism and deradicalization….There have been no violent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang for more than three years.”

Unsurprisingly, though, this has hardly assuaged anyone’s concerns. And if the movie thanking the Turpan authorities in its credits isn’t enough, it gets worse. That’s because the human rights controversy may not have moved Disney, but something else might. (It’s money. It’s always money.) The movie will debut in China on September 11. However, it’s already set to bomb in the country’s lucrative market. Many Chinese viewers have already pirated the film. And they’re not loving it. In fact, the Chinese government ordered their state-run media outlets not to cover the film nor the controversy surrounding it.

What are your thoughts on the Mulan controversy? Tell us in the comments or on social media.

featured image via Disney

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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