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Mulan’s twisted ending

Disney tips its hat to an oppressive government

Yifei Liu in Mulan Associated Press/Photo by Jasin Boland/Disney

Mulan’s twisted ending

Disney filmed the new live-action Mulan not far from the internment camps where the Chinese government commits human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

When the movie premiered this past weekend on Disney+, viewers noticed the end credits included messages of thanks to government entities in Xinjiang, including the Turpan Public Security Bureau and the “publicity department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee.” The former is a police force that oversees some of the reeducation camps where ethnic Uighurs are brainwashed, forced to renounce their religion and culture, and in some cases tortured and raped. They also have sent Uighurs into forced labor and implemented a campaign of population control through forced abortions, sterilizations, and even infanticide, according to reports by researcher Adrian Zenz. The “publicity department of the CPC” refers to the Communist Party of China’s propaganda arm in the region.

How did the preeminent family entertainment company in the United States wind up publicly thanking foreign officials who supervise the destruction of Uighur families? The answer has a lot to do with Disney’s marketing strategy at home and in China.

The 1998 animated version of Mulan came out toward the end of an enormously successful renaissance for the company, starting with 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Under pressure to have stronger female leads and more culturally diverse stories, Disney followed Beauty and the Beast with films like Aladdin and Pocahontas. The story of Mulan, a young Asian woman who defies traditional gender roles and saves her country, checked all the right boxes.

(A side note: Mulan, who is portrayed as Han Chinese in the Disney version, fights Hun invaders from Mongolia—an ethnic conflict that persists to this day.)

Twenty years later, Disney wanted to recreate its ’90s animation success with live-action remakes, and China had become the world’s most promising market for blockbuster films. Disney cast Yifei Liu, a Chinese-born American actress famous for TV and film roles in China, to play the heroine. She sparked a controversy of her own last year by publicly supporting the Chinese government’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong. Activists there have called for a boycott of Mulan since then.

“It just keeps getting worse!” Hong Kong protest-leader Joshua Wong tweeted Friday. “Now, when you watch #Mulan, not only are you turning a blind eye to police brutality and racial injustice (due to what the lead actors stand for), you’re also potentially complicit in the mass incarceration of Muslim Uyghurs.”

Lynde Langdon

Lynde is WORLD’s executive editor for news. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the Missouri School of Journalism, and the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Lynde resides with her family in Wichita, Kan.



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