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'Mulan' controversy: Congressional commission writes to Disney CEO Bob Chapek demanding answers

Disney's live-action "Mulan" is coming under fire for filming partly in China's Xinjiang province, where there have been allegations of human rights abuses.

Activists and organizations have taken to social media to denounce the film after noticing the end credits share a "special thanks" to multiple government entities in Xinjiang. And now, a congressional commission is demanding answers from Disney's CEO.

In July, Washington sanctioned senior Chinese officials who it claimed are responsible for mass detentions, religious persecution and forced sterilization against Muslim Uighur minorities in Xinjiang. 

China has repeatedly denied it mistreats Uighur Muslims in far-western Xinjiang, but human rights organizations and foreign media reports alleged that authorities detained about a million people in so-called re-education camps. China said the camps are vocational centers needed to counter radicalism. 

On Friday, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China said on Twitter that it sent a bipartisan letter to Disney’s Chief Executive Officer, Bob Chapek, demanding answers about Disney’s dealings with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

“Disney’s apparent cooperation with officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) who are most responsible for committing atrocities­ – or for covering up those crimes – is profoundly disturbing,” the letter reads.

It continues, “The decision to film parts of ‘Mulan’ in the XUAR, in cooperation with local security and propaganda elements, offers tacit legitimacy to these perpetrators of crimes that may warrant the designation of genocide.”

The letter also lists several specific points for the CEO to address that involve the company's dealings in the region as well as its executives' awareness of alleged human rights abuses while making "Mulan."

On Thursday, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy addressed the criticism at a virtual Bank of America investor conference.

“Mulan was primarily shot – almost the entirety – in New Zealand,” McCarthy told the conference. “And in an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country of China for this historical period-piece drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China.

“Now, it’s common knowledge that in order to film in China, you have to be granted permission, and that permission comes from the central government’s publicity department. It’s also common knowledge in the film industry, and it’s a practice that is done throughout the world, to acknowledge in a film’s credits the national and local governments that allowed you to film there. And so, in our credits, it recognized both China, as well as locations in New Zealand.”

USA TODAY has reached out to Disney for comment.

This isn't the only controversy surrounding "Mulan."

The film's star Yifei Liu walked into her first global controversy last August when she retweeted a post supportive of Chinese-backed police against Hong Kong protesters. The tweet drew heavy criticism and intensified calls from global critics to boycott the remake.

I've fought China's slow-motion genocide of Uighur Muslims:Now, my family are victims.

The World Uyghur Congress, an organization promoting Uyghur human rights, tweeted a statement Monday about the filming location as well as Liu's tweet.

"In the new #Mulan, @Disney thanks the public security bureau in (Xinjiang city) Turpan, which has been involved in the internment camps in East Turkistan," the statement read. "Last year, the actor publicly supported the #HongKongPolice in their violent crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters."

User @jeannette_ng shared an image of the credit screen to Twitter on Sunday.

"Mulan specifically thank(s) the publicity department of CPC Xinjiang uyghur autonomous region committee in the credits. You know, the place where the cultural genocide is happening," the caption reads. "They filmed extensively in Xinjiang, which the subtitles call 'Northwest China' #BoycottMulan."

User @JooeySiiu tweeted Tuesday, "Not only did the actress Liu Yi-fei of #Mulan publicly supported #PoliceBrutality, the film was also found to be filmed in Xinjiang — where the CCP detains countless Uyghurs inside the 're-education camps'. #BoycottMulan, for Hongkongers and for Uyghurs."

Hong Kong activist Nathan Law tweeted Monday, "Why we should #BoycottMulan? It’s about hypocrisy. In Hollywood movies, they claim to embrace social justice. In fact, they kowtow to autocratic China disgracefully. They shamed themselves by upholding values they don’t even believe in. Movies, should be more than money."

User @shawnwzhang tweeted Monday, "Mulan thanks Turpan Bureau of Public Security because it was filmed in Turpan in 2018, the peak of re-education campaign. How many thousands of Uyghur were put into camps by Turpan Bureau of Public Security when filming Mulan there?"

In an interview with USA TODAY before the movie's release, Liu said she isn't engaging in political discussion as an actress, adding that she was naïve to step into the debate.

"It's obviously very frustrating and obviously this is a very complicated question," she says. "I'm not a political expert, I'm an artist, so I just hoped this gets resolved soon."

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard, Bryan Alexander, Charles Trepany

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