It was supposed to be a big win for Disney, but “Mulan’s” release has yet to deliver. Circumstances around filming and production have led to public criticism, which the entertainment company is working to address.
According to critics, Disney was “wrong” to show gratitude toward a Chinese government agency in Xinjiang, which, Disney said, helped the company make the film. That gratitude was included in the film credits and, reportedly, hadn’t been publicly acknowledged beyond that until Disney CFO Christine McCarthy recently addressed this criticism during a conference.
McCarthy said: “‘Mulan’ was primarily shot in, almost the entirety, in New Zealand. And in an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape of the country of China for this historical period piece drama, we filmed scenery in 20 different locations in China …” McCarthy then added that it’s “common knowledge” that filmmakers must get permission from the government before filming in China and that it’s “standard practice” to acknowledge the granting of this permission in the credits of the film.
McCarthy said she would like to leave it at that, but that the inclusion of the “thanks” for allowing the company to shoot on location “generated a lot of issues for us …”
Those “issues” have generally been in relation to the inclusion of Xinjiang in the movie credits, because the U.S. has listed elements of that city’s government, specifically the Turpan Public Security Bureau, as “involved in human rights violations and abuses …”
The Chinese government argues that what they call a “crackdown” in Xinjiang has been “necessary” as part of an effort to combat “extremism and terrorism,” adding that many of the human rights violations accusations, such as mass detentions, are “groundless lies” or “sensational rumors.”
Despite the Chinese government's denials, however, critics have demanded that Disney explain how the company was working with officials in Xinjiang. Challenged on how the “controversy” would affect movie buys, McCarthy was practical, saying, “I’m not a box office predictor or prognosticator … But I will say (the controversy) had generated a lot of publicity …”
Of course, the movie has been generating publicity from controversy for some time. Early on, the titular star, Liu Yifei, expressed public support for Hong Kong police, who were being accused of excessive violence against protesters. For the star, who was born in China, it was just an honest answer to a question. For supporters of the Hong Kong protests, it was the star of a major movie coming down on the side of a governmental group whose policy they opposed. This led to more explanations and more earned media for the movie.
Now, though, the big question is, will “Mulan” get past all the controversy and succeed? At this point, that’s an open question. Critics, especially in China, say the film didn’t quite live up to expectations. In the end, the fans will have the final say, and the numbers will tell the story.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR agency.