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Disney Faces Multiple Backlashes Over China

Bob Iger was riding high in January 2020. He had built Disney into the international entertainment company. He had navigated many years of successful acquisitions resulting in a massive portfolio of intellectual properties no other corporation could even approach. And he had worked hard to build inroads with the Chinese Communist Party in order to get Disney movies reaping massive box office revenues inside China, plus a theme park addition in Shanghai that he felt was every bit as important as Disney’s crown jewel: Walt Disney World itself.
By spring of 2020, everything had changed. Bog Iger stepped down abruptly and handed the reigns to Bob Chapek, with Iger taking a more symbolic role within the creative side of things. Iger’s first step in that role was to negotiate a deal with the NBA to finish their season at Wide World of Sports (more on that later). China was busy allowing international travel from the city of Wuhan, but no domestic travel, which conveniently spread a pandemic worldwide while minimizing the spread within their borders. During the pandemic, China also decided it would wipe out any additional goodwill by overtaking Hong Kong, a democratic stronghold and economic power house in Asia. And then for the cherry on top, China went all in on a plan straight out of Hitler’s playbook… concentration camps used for genocide.
Well that – and a simmering new cold war between China and the United States – certainly did cause the new CEO, Bob Chapek, some serious issues to start his tenure. So out with the old Bob, in with the new, what is Disney to do?
You might have heard of the fiasco the live action Mulan is causing Disney at the moment. Approved and pushed forward prior to Chapek’s takeover of the Disney helm, Mulan has not only caused boycott calls from Hong Kong sympathizers, but now it’s getting even spicier. It turns out in Mulan’s credits, Disney saw fit to give “special thanks” to multiple government agencies inside Xinjiang. That just so happens to be the same province where somewhere around two million Uighur Muslims are being held in government-controlled concentration camps where all sorts of unspeakable horrors abound.
Pirates and Princesses’ Original Article on Mulan’s PR Backlash and Boycotts
Whether Chapek had any idea this was going to occur, or whether he understood what this would mean… Disney giving special thanks to Xinjiang is absolutely akin to Disney giving thanks to Auschwitz.
Needless to say, that didn’t go so well. As of the writing of this article, Disney has yet to respond to this atrocious behavior. Humanity, on the other hand, is responding a plenty. Whether it’s Forbes, BBC, the New York Times, or YouTube shows like ClownfishTV or The Quartering, everyone is talking about Disney playing nice with genocide for a little extra cash. Many are calling for total and complete boycotts of the company.
The response by the Walt Disney Company will need to thread several needles. Changes in behavior for the company are likely necessary.
Remember when I said we’d discuss the NBA at Disney World earlier? Let’s go ahead now. You see, not only did Iger bring all of this China controversy upon Chapek with his decisions in the years prior to 2020, but he then brought the NBA to WDW. Smart decision, right? Iger would bring the NBA to Walt Disney World, delivering an influx of cash to the vacation destination of the world at a time when theme parks were crippled by a virus. Simultaneously, ESPN and ABC (both Disney subsidiaries) would get much needed live sporting events again, driving advertising revenues for the company.
And it all would have worked if it hadn’t been for… you guessed it… China.
You see, prior to the NBA returning to play in Orlando, they too had been chasing Chinese yuan at the expense of an ethical stance against human rights violations. Whether it was Lebron James refusing to condemn the takeover of Hong Kong and the genocide of an ethnic minority, whether it was the NBA defending China against the benign tweet of a Houston Rockets owner, or whether it was the report of child abuse occurring systemically in Chinese-NBA youth camps, the verdict was in. Fans had had enough.
A new Harris poll shows that nearly 40% of NBA fans are choosing to either stop watching altogether or less than before due to a variety of reasons. While the leading cause is the politicization of the NBA, the second-most cited reason for fans leaving the sport? China. According to the Harris poll, a whopping 19% of the NBA’s fans are moving to new sources of entertainment due to the NBA’s cozy relationship with the CCP.
This past Sunday night, the NBA scored its most watched playoff game of the year. Some sports writers blissfully predicted the fans were back. Most forgot to mention it was beat that night in viewership by both 60 Minutes and America’s Funniest Home Videos. That tells you how low the bar currently is.
With both Mulan and the NBA embroiled in controversy due to the relations with China, you’d think Disney would have enough problems. But the final straw in this self-inflicted PR labyrinth for Disney is the US Justice Department itself. In a speech several weeks ago, it was US Attorney General William Barr who called out Disney specifically, naming how many cast members in management of Shanghai Disney have communist insignia on their desks at work. For the Walt Disney Company, it was a clear signal that the US government was paying attention, even to the point of having intra-company intelligence about what was going on.
Now the ball is in Disney’s court. If they make wrong moves in one direction, they stand to lose the Chinese box office and potentially the theme parks in both Shanghai and Hong Kong. If they make wrong moves in another direction, they could face long-term boycotts from Americans and others. They even could see significant legal scrutiny for their work with the Chinese Communist Party. Bob Chapek has his work cut out for him.
What do you think about all of this increasingly controversial situation? Feel free to comment below and let us know!

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