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IMRAN: 'Mulan' filming, blatant ignorance of human rights abuse

If you have not watched it already, skip out on "Mulan." Disney's handling of the filming process has been despicable, to say the least. – Photo by Disney

On Sept. 4, the highly anticipated live-action remake of "Mulan" was released on Disney+, available to subscribers who pay the premier access fee.   

Like many others, I was extremely eager to watch the film. Mulan happened to be one of my favorite Disney princesses, and the original 1998 movie remains as one of my favorite Disney films of all time. I loved everything about it, from the heroism and selflessness displayed by the female lead, to its comedic moments, beautiful plot and entertaining musical numbers. 

And because the original film held such a dear place in my heart, I was desperately hoping that the live-action remake would not end up being another cinematic disaster like its predecessors (namely, "Dumbo" and "The Lion King"). 

But while "Mulan" ended up doing pretty well at the box office and garnered a fair number of positive reviews, it turned out to be exactly what I feared it would be: a complete and utter disappointment. 

When I say "disappointment," I am not referring to the content of the movie itself. In fact, I have not even seen the movie, and it is for the following reason that I probably will not end up watching it at all. 

Upon the release of "Mulan," social media users have noticed that in the ending credits, Disney thanks several government entities in Xinjiang, a place where mass human rights abuses are taking place, for helping it make the film.

For those who do not know, here is a brief description of what is happening in Xinjiang. For the past few years, as many as 2 million Muslims have been rounded up by government authorities and placed in internment camps throughout the Xinjiang province, where they are tortured for months, endure forced labor and are coerced into giving up their religious practices. 

They are susceptible to brainwashing and often endure beatings, unhygienic conditions, inadequate access to food and water and according to some, are subjected to harassment and sexual assault. Additionally, women are forbidden from wearing religious head coverings and men from growing long beards. Dozens of mosques have also been demolished or vandalized.

But the list does not end there. China has also been accused of slashing birth rates among Uighurs by forcing women to take contraceptives and to have abortions, even as members of the Han majority are encouraged to have more children. It is truly despicable and can only be described as a genocide. 

Amid all the backlash, Disney’s Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy had this to say about the controversy. 

“It has generated a lot of publicity,” she said, according to Deadline. “Let me just put something into context. The real facts are that 'Mulan' was primarily shot — almost in entirety — in New Zealand. In an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this period drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China. It’s common knowledge that, in order to film in China, you have to be granted permission. That permission comes from the central government.”

“I would just leave it at that,” she concluded, “but (the Uighur controversy) has generated a lot of issues for us.”

Nowhere in her response does she acknowledge the human rights abuses that are taking place in Xinjiang, but actively tries to defend her company’s decision to film there. Of course, no one is arguing that it is wrong to thank the people who allowed you to film in their location. 

The issue is where you are filming and the kinds of people you choose to be affiliated with in the process of making your movie. Filming in Xinjiang was wrong, and McCarthy’s tone-deaf response to the backlash for "Mulan" does not serve as a good look for Disney. 

Not to mention, a multi-billion-dollar company like Disney could afford to film anywhere in the world, right? So why Xinjiang? Why in a place where human rights abuses have been clearly documented, especially back in 2018, when filming for this movie first began? 

McCarthy says that it was to “accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this period drama,” something that, apparently, can only be accomplished from filming scenes in Xinjiang and is clearly more of a pressing issue than that of human rights. 

Disney’s decision to film near these internment camps and to thank the government entities responsible for these oppressive practices is indefensible. McCarthy’s response to the controversy demonstrates a complete lack of regard toward China’s crackdown of Uighur Muslims and suggests that Disney prefers corporate greed over morality. 

This is only one controversy that has sparked a “Boycott Mulan” campaign on social media. In addition, the lead actress, Liu Yifei, has been criticized for openly supporting the Hong Kong police in its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, despite playing a character that fights for equality and freedom. Talk about being tone-deaf. 

While Disney has yet to release a formal statement in response to these issues, these are the reasons why I cannot bring myself to watch the film, and I encourage others to refrain from watching it as well. 

I refuse to support a corporation that chooses to kowtow to the Chinese government and turn a blind eye to the genocidal practices against ethnic minorities. Disney needs to take accountability for this and vow to do better in the future. 

Maryam Imran is a School of Social Work junior majoring in social work. Her column, "A Brown Girl's Perspective," runs on alternate Mondays.

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