And I don’t boycott anything.
Social justice is near and dear to my heart. Still, I don’t boycott big named brands because enough people will buy their products so that those companies will not feel enough of an economic impact to make real change. I’m making an exception with the movie “Mulan” because I can’t stomach the idea of supporting a project that pressed forward against the backdrop of human rights’ abuses that the world is awakening to finally.
As a little girl, “Aladdin” and “Mulan” excited me. Strong brown and Asian women dominated a Disney movie. I loved Jasmine and Mulan taking charge of their own lives despite the confines of a patriarchal culture that tried to stop them. Both were independent characters, but Mulan took that independence further than any Disney heroine I remember by saving men, instead of the other way around.
Mulan was beautiful but awkward, a unique ray of light. She persevered in a male-dominated world by staying true to herself. She didn’t mold herself to fit into what society told her she should be. In the end, they adapted to her.
So, you would think a live-action version of this story would excite me.
It doesn’t. Here’s why.
Disney shot this movie in Xinjiang, where China has detained around one million Uighur Muslims in “reeducation centers,” another name for concentration camps.
The Uighurs have had a troubled history with China. Tensions between them and the majority, Han Chinese, have percolated for years. In Xinjiang, oil and resources have attracted the Han Chinese who have sidelined the Uighurs in their homeland. After riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi, where 200 people lost their lives, the Chinese government took hard action against the Uighurs.
They blamed the unrest on extremist and separatist groups and sought to eradicate extremism. Yet, experts in the area say they exist, but there are not enough to warrant the harsh response.
Millions of Uighurs have experienced the reeducation camps to eradicate their Muslim identities and make them more like their mainland China counterparts. Outside the camps, government authorities have stopped the Uighur Muslims from fasting and prevented men from keeping beards, and women from wearing veils.
Reports have surfaced of torture, mass surveillance, and unlawful detainment. Forced labor of Uighurs has contributed to products worldwide, including major fashion brands that import cotton from China. Most recently, reports of forced sterilization and abortion have compelled the world to take notice. These actions are beyond the quelling of civil unrest and amount to genocide.
The Disney connection
Since Disney filmed parts of “Mulan” in Xinjiang, in the closing credits, they thanked a public security bureau located in Turpan, where experts believe the internment camps operate. Production designers spent months researching in Urumqi. “It’s a small world after all” when Disney conducts business as usual in an area where major human rights violations happen.
What’s a little thing like genocide when a film has to be made?
Disney’s CFO Christine McCarthy’s statement regarding the controversy only addressed the logistics of shooting in China and that“it has generated a lot of issues for us.” She mentioned nothing of the people in the camps and what their issues are.
The company states its mission “is to entertain, inform, and inspire people around the globe through unparalleled storytelling.” How can they fulfill that mission filming next to a concentration camp? What’s inspiring about generating income for a region that will use it to fund their human rights abuses?
The stand I take
This underlying hypocrisy and my value for human life lead me to avoid this film and avoid the brands that use the cotton obtained through slave labor.
I understand that the only way these companies will only really notice if you hit them in the wallet. I doubt Disney or any of the brands I will avoid will see a threat to their bottom line. Still, I hold a small hope that humanity finds a way.
Either way, at least I’ll be able to sleep at night.