Global Affairs

Should we be boycotting ‘Mulan’ over its cooperation in the persecution of Uyghur Muslims?

Recent controversy has broken out over the live action adaptation of the 1998 film ‘Mulan’, due to be released on Disney Plus December 4th 2020, and its filming in the Xinjiang province where the Uyghur Muslim group are heavily persecuted.

The Uyghur people are a Turkic Muslim ethnicity who identify closely with a central Asian ethnicity. They number roughly 11 million people and a large percentage of this population exists in Xinjiang. There has been contention between the Chinese government and the Uyghur people for a long time and recently well-founded accusations have been levelled at the Chinese government; accusing them of detaining Uyghur Muslims in ‘re-education’ camps.

It is now estimated that two million Muslims are living in these camps and reports of torture, forced sterilisation, electrocution, separation of families, forced marriage, rape, and many other ordeals inflicted upon this religious and ethnic group, have been circulating for the past few years.

One Uyghur woman, Mihrigul Tursun, has spoken about the abuse she suffered in the camps to reporters in Washington:

“My hands bled from their beatings … each time I was electrocuted, my whole body would shake violently and I could feel the pain in my veins … I thought I would rather die than go through this torture and begged them to kill me.”

Tursun was imprisoned in a cell of 60 women where they were forced to sing songs praising the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP)  and take pills of unknown content. This ‘medication’ caused bleeding in some women and amenorrhea in others, Tursun reported that nine women in her cell died during the three months she was imprisoned.

Although China has been widely criticised for their actions and many journalists, including Noor Tagouri, have described the “concentration camps” as an “ethnic genocide”, the Chinese government refuses to admit to the scale of the ‘re-education’ camps and has only recently admitted to their existence. They have changed laws and legislation in Xinjiang province to legalise these camps and have called them “vocational training centres”.

Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, has condemned these camps and has said“It is clear that gross, egregious human rights abuses are going on.”

There is growing pressure for the UK government to impose sanctions on the Chinese governments and the official petition (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/300146) has now amassed over 100,000 signatures and therefore will be debated in parliament.

The Xinjiang province has slipped in and out of Chinese control over the past few centuries, and the Uyghur Muslims have become a focal point for discrimination and ethnic profiling. Harsh laws have been introduced in the province, fasting has been forbidden, headscarves banned, passports confiscated, and mosques closed. These measures are an attempt to subjugate and quell the Muslim population in Xinjiang; the camps are said to enforce the speaking of Mandarin and to force the prisoners to renounce Islam.

Why is this relevant to a Disney film?

Parts of the upcoming Disney live-action remake of ‘Mulan’ were filmed in the Xinjiang province, where the majority of the Uyghur Muslims reside, and the camps are situated. It has been reported by early viewers of the film that in the credits, the Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security receives a “Special Thanks”. This same bureau was sanctioned by the U.S. Commerce Department last year for its role in the operation of the aforementioned “concentration camps”. There are also several propaganda departments from Xinjiang that are credited in the film, these same departments have also been working hard to cover up the existence of the camps.

‘Mulan’ tells the story of a young girl who, in order to save her elderly father from conscription, pretends to be a boy and enlists in the army. The cartoon version is an empowering film about the strength of women, the message clashing  with the suggestion that the film has benefitted from authorities enforcing female sterilisation, implanted IUDs, and carrying out abortions on Uyghur women.

Many concerns have already been raised about the lack of true diversity and inclusion in the film. A white director, all-white screenwriters, majority-white producers, white film scorer, white cinematographer, white editor, white casting director, production, set, costume design, have all contributed a sense of injustice and rising frustration. 

It seems that the gesture towards diversity is insincere and lacks real progress. There is also controversy surrounding Liu Yifei, the lead actress, who voiced her support for the Hong Kong police last year during the pro-democracy rallies. The film has also been accused of pandering to the Chinese government censorship rules as Disney is hoping to tap into the film market in China.

Disney may be forced to face the growing anger and disappointment as the release date for the film approaches and the hashtag #boycottmulan continues to trend.

Phoebe Jowett Smith

Phoebe is a student at Jesus College, she studies Spanish and Arabic and is about to start her third year, after spending her second year living in the Middle East.