Disney is one of the corporations and major Hollywood studios giving full-throated support to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. But the company has time and again been impotent on human rights, silent when it was time to confront the Communist government of China.
It’s backed down from support for the Hong Kong democracy movement and oppressed minorities like Tibetans, Uyghur Muslims (they’re quite literally in concentration camps), and, yes, even black people (just months ago). Disney is also one of numerous media companies noted for self-censoring its content to avoid angering the regime in Beijing.
The Hulu streaming service was Disney’s first property to declare support for BLM, but others quickly followed suit, including Disney’s powerhouse Marvel Entertainment brand. On Sunday, Disney posted a statement to all of its employees that expressed support for the central thesis of the current protests:
The recent killing of George Floyd as well as other instances of lethal attacks and harassment of unarmed black citizens in our nation continue to drive outrage and calls for action by people of all cultural backgrounds, including many of our employees. Feelings of grief and anger cause us to confront the inscrutable idea that the lives of some are deemed less valuable – and less worthy of dignity, care and protection – than the lives of others.
While these devastating incidents are not new, there’s something unique about what’s happening in this moment. The pandemic coupled with these recent injustices have pushed the issues of racial disparity into the open.
We, too, are struggling to make sense of the recent tragedies that leave us feeling overcome with sorrow. While we don’t have all the answers, we resolve to use our compassion, our creative ideas and our collective sense of humanity to ensure we are fostering a culture that acknowledges our people’s feelings and their pain. We also realize that now more than ever is the time for us all to further strengthen our commitment to diversity and inclusion everywhere.
Disney and most of its divisions posted a social media message using white letters on a black square, the preferred symbol of BLM online:
— Disney (@Disney) May 31, 2020
Disney followed this up with a YouTube video supporting Black Lives Matter by name:
Actor John Boyega of the recent Star Wars trilogy was hailed by Disney executives as a “hero” for delivering a passionate Black Lives Matter speech at a rally in London on Wednesday. China, however, doesn’t think much of Boyega’s heroic status.
When the international marketing campaign for the first of the new Star Wars films, The Force Awakens, reached China, Boyega’s image was massively reduced until he was about the same size as a random Imperial Stormtrooper. In the rest of the world, the poster for Boyega’s Star Wars debut clearly portrayed him as one of the main characters; in China, he looks like he could crawl inside BB-8 to hide.
Star Wars fans blasted China for racism, but Disney gave the CCP a total pass, offering the humiliating explanation that China just wanted more room on the poster for “attention-grabbing spaceships and explosions.” No one honestly comparing the appearance of the posters could possibly arrive at that conclusion:
— ／ｈｏｍｅ／ｓｒａｚａｓｈ (@Srazash) June 4, 2020
Disney is noted as one of the companies willing to muzzle its creative talent to keep Chinese money flowing into its coffers. Chinese censors rarely have to go after Disney products, because the company does their work for them.
When Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a bill in May to block federal assistance for movie studios that bow to Chinese Communist censorship, he cited numerous examples of Hollywood self-censorship, including the elimination of a Tibetan character from a Marvel superhero film (the Ancient One from Doctor Strange, whose replacement with a middle-aged Scottish woman was so bizarre that Doctor Strange himself comes very close to lampshading it) and the even more unbelievable decision by Disney-owned 20th Century Fox to eliminate all references to Freddie Mercury’s sexuality from the Chinese release of Bohemian Rhapsody. That bit of self-censorship was a cruel posthumous insult to Mercury, who might have preferred being replaced by a Scottish woman to highlight the absurdity of telling his life story without mentioning he was gay.
Cruz also mentioned a few landmark examples of other Hollywood studios censoring their films to appease China — including the nutty and remarkably choice to replace Chinese villains in the Red Dawn remake with North Koreans by digitally altering their uniforms and the profoundly insulting removal of Taiwanese and Japanese patches from Tom Cruise’s jacket in the upcoming Top Gun sequel. The Top Gun film is subtitled Maverick after the Cruise character’s call sign, but there are no mavericks in Hollywood when it comes to obeying Chinese speech codes.
How can Disney posture as a global champion of civil rights while refusing to speak out against China’s relentless human rights abuses, including restrictions on speech that Hollywood helps the CCP enforce against Americans? Cruz said his bill would force studios to “choose between the assistance from the federal government or the money that they want from China.” How can any outspokenly “woke” corporation justify wanting Chinese money so badly that it will humbly obey the commands of a viciously repressive authoritarian regime?
The Hollywood Reporter discussed Disney’s extreme sensitivity to the CCP’s concerns in October 2019, noting that the Chinese market is good for at least $700 million of Disney’s annual revenue. A leaked email revealed that Disney-owned ESPN told its employees not to discuss Chinese politics, Hong Kong, or the Morey affair.
Disney has raised little objection to China’s ridiculous totalitarian ban on one of the most beloved characters it owns, Winnie the Pooh. Pooh is banned in China because critics of autocratic President Xi Jinping enjoy comparing the roly-poly dictator to the cartoon bear. China bans Pooh with such furious determination that one would think the Bear of Little Brain once led an invading army into the Forbidden City. In fact, the Chinese have been known to ban other American media for merely mentioning the fact that China bans Winnie the Pooh.
Disney-owned ABC News was not much interested in speaking truth to Beijing’s power after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey made statements in support of the Hong Kong democracy movement, for example.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was able to pressure Morey and the NBA into offering humiliating apologies by bringing tremendous financial leverage to bear against the Houston Rockets and the basketball league. Disney’s ABC decided not to pay much attention to the groundswell of bipartisan outrage this produced in the United States.
The UK Guardian glumly noted last July that Disney appeared to be currying favor with China’s authoritarian government by remaking its classic musical cartoon Mulan as a dour tribute to Chinese nationalism.
Guardian writer Jingan Young, a lifelong fan of the original Mulan, found the timing of the live-action remake’s trailer “awful with recent events in Hong Kong culminating in police brutality against anti-extradition bill protesters, and the ongoing oppression of ethnic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.”
“It feels like Disney is waving a big red flag in everyone’s faces in its desperation to secure success at the Chinese box office. For those who believe in democracy and freedom, this leaves a sour taste,” she wrote.
Young offered some interesting speculation that Disney brass might have misunderstood why the animated original Mulan did not fare well at the Chinese box office. They think it was because the movie’s cartoon style and humorous notes, including a wise-cracking dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, somehow offended Chinese audiences, but in truth the CCP was telling Chinese citizens in the late Nineties to boycott Disney because it dared to release a film about the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
Disney isn’t about to take any chances on offending the steely-eyed censors of Beijing again, not with $700 million on the line. Outspoken political activism and ideological lectures are strictly for American audiences. Disney stars can delivery fiery BLM speeches, and they’re allowed to side with Hong Kong authorities against pro-democracy protesters no matter how many complaints of brutality are lodged against Hong Kong police, but it’s difficult to imagine the company letting them inveigh against the concentration camps of Xinjiang province with similar fervor. Disney, like most other BLM-supporting American companies with big-money interests in China, would never dream of telling the murderous regime in Beijing that Uyghur lives matter, or Tibetan lives matter, or Hong Kong lives matter.