Chinese State Media Trashes Disney’s ‘Mulan’ for Not Being Pro-China Enough

disney film mulan
Jasin Boland/Disney

China’s state-run newspaper Global Times excoriated Disney’s live-action remake of 1990s cartoon film Mulan in a weekend review that dismissed it as “self-righteous,” historically inaccurate, and insulting to the patriotism of the Chinese people.

Mulan is a retelling of a Chinese legend about a woman, Hua Mulan, believed to live in the Sixth Century AD who joined the military in secret to protect her ill father from mandatory service. After months of logistics struggles at Disney to rework the release of the film around the Chinese coronavirus pandemic and global theater closures, the corporation released the film last week. It almost immediately triggered widespread global disgust after viewers noted that the film thanked Chinese Communist Party officials complicit in the genocide of the ethnic Uyghur people for their help with production.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong had already called for a global boycott of the movie after lead actress Liu Yifei publicly issued support for police brutality in the city.

“I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong,” Liu wrote on social media in August 2019, after two months of extreme police violence in the city against anti-communist protesters. Police also protected armed thugs who attacked both protesters and bystanders in an incident in the Yuen Long neighborhood that month, despite officials later admitting the criminals had ties to triads, Hong Kong’s organized crime gangs.

Despite Disney’s public appreciation of the Communist Party in Mulan‘s credits and high-profile members of the production supporting Party policies, the film received a “disappointing” reception in China, one of the few nations where officials have once again legalized going to movie theaters. Mulan made $23.2 million at the box office in China and $37.6 million around the world.

Despite a Reuters report claiming last week that the Communist Party had banned state media from covering Mulan at all, the Global Times published a review Friday trying to explain why “the film received a cold shoulder” from Chinese theater-goers, titled, “Poor Artistic Level, Misunderstanding of Chinese Culture Lead to Mulan Failure in China.”

The review complained that the movie “failed to resonate with Chinese audiences” because it “failed to tell a Chinese story in an accurate and attractive manner.” The film’s values, the review claimed, were insufficiently “patriotic” for Communist Party loyalists. It also quoted an alleged Chinese professor complaining that some of the movie’s aesthetic and architectural decisions were anachronistic and that the average Chinese viewer could pick up on ancient historical nuances.

“For instance, in the film, Mulan from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) lived in the earth building – a type of construction using raw earth invented during the Song Dynasty (960-1279),” the professor, identified as Shi Wenxue, told the propaganda outlet. “The general in the movie played Taichi – which was created in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).”

A Communist Party-approved movie critic also lamented to the Global Times that the Disney film was “a Disney princess story” rather than a “Chinese story.”

“Chinese netizens also disagreed on the values expressed in the movie, saying that the traditional Chinese story had a patriotic theme, which was changed to a story of soldiers blindly protecting a king,” the Global Times claimed, without elaborating.

The outlet insisted that calls to boycott Mulan did not reach Chinese audiences and that their decision not to watch the movie was independent of human rights concerns. The Global Times had asserted last week that any calls to avoid the film in recognition of its ties to concentration camp abuses and police brutality in Hong Kong were a reflection of toxic American cultural values.

“U.S. public opinion on China is a hodgepodge of traditional arrogance, hooliganism, the state of being ill-informed and outdated,” the propaganda newspaper claimed. “It has lost its complexity, diversity and fluidity, and has become rude and stubborn.”

Other Chinese state media outlets have largely avoided Mulan, though China Daily – a typically less belligerent outlet than the Global Times – remarked in an article on the film last week that it was “milquetoast” in a story condemning Hong Kong protesters for calling to boycott it.

Like the Global Times piece, China Daily insisted on separating its opinion on the “muddled, mediocre film” from its disdain for Hong Kong protesters.

Calling Mulan “a lavishly crafted milquetoast of a movie that some viewers will enjoy, others won’t,” China Daily nonetheless insisted that any boycott of the movie is “a joke.”

“No one has to like Mulan, it may well be a muddled, mediocre film, but what’s to hate about it?” China Daily asked. “Movies take a lot of hard work and serious money to make and even then, there’s no guarantee for success, even for Hollywood. It’s still hit or miss until the lights dim and film begins to play.”

“It is ironic that Hong Kong, which has long prided itself for nurturing and cherishing free speech and cultural freedom, and is the proud home of one of the most legendary and prolific film industries, is now the locus of an immature and dishonest movement to pressure people to not see a movie simply because a few hardened activists have taken issue with a comment made by the movie’s protagonist,” the propaganda outlet protested.

China’s Foreign Ministry weighed in on the movie as well, though – unlike its state propaganda arms – Beijing itself weighed in only to defend its concentration camps in Xinjiang and Liu Yifei for her support for police brutality.

“This latest version has caused some controversy for giving thanks to the Xinjiang authority in its credits. But in my view, nothing can be more natural than the film thanking the local authorities for offering convenience for the shooting,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Friday.

“You mentioned that the film’s lead actress previously made comments in support of the Hong Kong police,” he said to the reporter asking about the movie. “I want to say ‘bravo!’ to that.”

Following the uproar surrounding Disney’s choice to produce a film in a region plagued by human rights atrocities – and thank those committing them – Walt Disney Co. CFO Christine McCarthy conceded in a public appearance last week that the concentration camps have “generated a lot of issues for us.”

A Reuters report published in October 2019 revealed that the Chinese Communist Party has built over 1,000 concentration camps throughout Xinjiang, its largest and westernmost province. Xinjiang is home to the majority of the nation’s ethnic Uyghur population, who are majority Muslim and culturally and linguistically distinct from the Han ethnic majority who control the Communist Party.

Oppositon to the camps is a growing global phenomon.

Penny Starr

Survivors of the camps say they have endured indoctrination, extreme physical torture, priming for organ harvesting, rape, forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and other atrocities. Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in the area have called the program – designed to limit their population size and erase their language and religion – genocide.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) revealed in a report this week that Turpan – where Mulan filmed and whose police force the film thanked for helping with production – is home to at least eight concentration camps.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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