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China bars media coverage of Disney's Mulan after Xinjiang backlash

BEIJING • The Chinese authorities have told major media outlets not to cover Walt Disney’s release of Mulan, in an order issued after controversy erupted overseas over the film’s links with the Xinjiang region, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Opening in local theatres yesterday, Disney had high hopes for Mulan in China, but starving it of publicity in the country’s strictly censored media would be another blow to the US$200 million (S$273 million) production.
Starring big-name ethnic Chinese actors – Jet Li, Gong Li, Donnie Yen and Liu Yifei – and based on a Chinese folk story, Mulan was tailored to appeal to audiences in China, the world’s second-largest movie market.
But mixed reviews online and capacity limits in theatres due to coronavirus prevention measures were likely to weigh on its box-office performance, even before major media outlets received a notice telling them to refrain from covering the movie.
Three sources told Reuters that media outlets had received the notice, two of whom said it was sent by the Cyberspace Administration of China. A fourth source at a major Chinese newspaper said he received a text message with a similar order from a senior colleague.
No reason was given in the notice, but the sources said they believed it was because of the overseas backlash over the film’s links to Xinjiang.
Partly shot in Xinjiang, Mulan’s credits included thanks to the authorities there, which prompted calls overseas for a boycott of the movie. China’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang has been criticised by some governments, including the United States, and human rights groups.
Disney acknowledged on Thursday that the decision to shoot some scenes of Mulan in Xinjiang has « generated a lot of issues for us ».
The company’s chief financial officer Christine McCarthy, who spoke at a Bank of America conference, noted that Mulan was mostly shot in New Zealand, but that 20 locations in China were used to showcase « some of the unique landscapes ».
Filming in Chinese locations was « an effort to accurately depict some of the unique landscape and geography of the country for this historical period piece, » she said. « It has generated a lot of publicity. Let’s leave it at that. »

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