COLLUSION: Disney’s ‘Mulan’ Disaster Highlights Dangers of China Deals: The cost of doing business with Beijing has risen sharply and swiftly.

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Disney’s Mulan has had a cursed run. First came the comments of its star Liu Yifei, who praised Hong Kong’s police amid the city’s pro-democracy demonstrations, causing outrage in the city. Then there was the pandemic, pushing back the film’s release date and leaving it stuck as an expensive add-on for home screening. When the movie was finally available, it turned out that its credits thanked the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, where a few of the outdoor shots were filmed. Unfortunately, those authorities are also active participants in an ongoing genocide.

Then came the coldest blow. China, Disney’s last, best hope to turn the movie into a hit, silenced all coverage of the film on the mainland a couple of days before its release. All Disney’s pandering to Chinese authorities meant nothing as soon as there was a whiff of political trouble. With the movie already rated a grim 4.7 out of 10 on Douban, the most popular Chinese film review site, the chance of a word-of-mouth hit was small.

But when Disney began the project in 2015, the idea of a marquee blockbuster geared toward the Chinese market made sense. So, even, did filming in Xinjiang. To be sure, there were human rights issues, but from a cynical business perspective they were fringe concerns, not blared across the front page. U.S. lawmakers were making occasional noises about China, but the government wasn’t banning swathes of Chinese firms and the president wasn’t calling a deadly outbreak “the China virus.” Hong Kong was still an oasis of free speech, not an incipient police state. The whole of Hollywood had spent decades accepting China’s limits on movie content; the last movie criticizing China in any way had been made in 1997. Disney’s own executives had apologized to China’s leaders for making movies about Tibet.


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