Culture Friday – Disney’s compromise with China


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday the 11th of September, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: Culture Friday.

AUDIO: I feel like it’s important to have accurate representation of the stories for the community that’s gonna watch it, otherwise it’s gonna create a false sense of illusion in the world. We have to paint a picture accurately and that’s exactly what we did in this movie in every aspect, so I’m very proud of what we did.

That’s one of the actors in the Disney live action remake of Mulan talking about the efforts the studio made to have the film shot in China.

What he’s not talking about are the compromises Disney made with the Chinese government to have the film shot.

The credits following Mulan read: Special thanks to the Chinese Communist Party Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Committee.

Well, according to the United Nations: The government has detained more than 1 million Chinese Uighur Muslims and is holding them in internment camps in the Xinjiang region.

BROWN: The Chinese American actress who plays the lead role is a controversial figure as well. During China’s crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, the actress expressed support for the crackdown.

All this has sparked a movement to boycott the film.

EICHER: Here’s Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong.

WONG: Entering Chinese market might be one of the big reasons for them to choose Mulan, especially how business interests override the principle of human rights.

John Stonestreet joins us for Culture Friday. John is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

BROWN: John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, HOST: Good morning!

EICHER: John I’m old enough to remember when Disney and Hollywood stars were talking about boycotting movie-making in Georgia because of abortion laws there.

STONESTREET: Yeah, Disney has never gotten over its deep-seated allegiance to China—not since they lost an awful lot of money when they made a film about, they gave a positive portrayal of the Dali Lama. 

This is a travesty. What’s happening to the Muslim Uighur population, specifically in the Xinjiang province, fits the UN’s definition of genocide. It fits it on a number of levels—the attempt to essentially curb a population, a people group through imprisonment, through torture. We have reports there of attempts to control fertility through forced abortions, forced sterilizations, forced birth control methods, invasive birth control methods as well. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. And the things is is clearly China feels like it can do almost anything that it wants and get away with it. Thankfully we finally have a couple corporations—Apple being one of them—that have pulled much of their production out of China. We also have India, the country of India, but that probably has more to do with geopolitical conflicts than standing on principle. Disney isn’t one of them. The money signs are just too big. This is a tragic story. 

But I don’t believe in boycotts, Nick. I don’t. But I’m boycotting this one. Our family won’t be seeing it.

BROWN: I can’t help but notice how often the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred and the people consuming these films find themselves in the middle of this haze. 

With the passing away of Chadwick Boseman, I was thinking about the superhero film, Black Panther back in 20-18, people dressed like characters from the movie and I read countless social media posts of fans longing for the fictitious “Wakanda.” We see this in other superhero movies, too, Spiderman, Iron Man. We see it in other fictional realms like Star Wars.

And I can see young girls wanting to be Mulan.

How do we keep a good balance between fictional worlds and the real world?

STONESTREET: Well, Myrna, I’m probably not the right one to ask. On a recent road trip with my family, my three-year-old told everyone that he met that he was Spiderman. 

So I may not be the right one to give any advice on this one. I think one of the things, though, that is incredibly troubling is in particular the portrayal of young women. I’m a big fan of Chadwick Boseman, by the way. What a tragic loss. What an incredible character he played. The fact that he showed the sort of strength that he did fighting cancer and no one knew, and, really, by all indications was poised to be one of the next great male leads in an elite category. At least as far as I can tell. That was just really tragic. And the fact that so many African American children saw this as someone to identify with, I thought, was an extremely redemptive and powerful thing, particularly how that story—Black Panther—was written. And I think that’s a way in which fiction can serve us in reality.

On the other hand, what we have is female leads that are great not because they’re women but because they’re acting like men. They’re female leads because they are basically strong like a man, not strong like a woman. I have obviously a vested interest in this with three daughters, but I’m a big fan of the book Seven Women by Eric Metaxas. And the preface to that book in particular has a stunning observation in which he says I’m featuring these seven women because they’re great. But they’re not great in spite of being women or because they acted like men. Their greatness came through being women. But that’s being downplayed. That’s being replaced by some sort of tough guy, and that’s not fiction serving reality.

EICHER: I want to ask you about this story out of Washington, involving the federal government. We reported this story this week that President Trump ordered an end to diversity training he deems divisive, propagandistic, and anti-American. Specifically, he wants to cut off money for any training on “critical race theory,” or “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country. I’m reading from a cease-and-desist letter that went out from the Office of Management and Budget.

We’ve heard about these White Fragility lectures by Robin D’Angelo that corporations spend huge sums of money on, so evidently the federal government is doing the same. It’s going to take a long time to unwind all this—you understand how government operates and how big it is—but it’s interesting that there’s pushback here.

BROWN: But you know, I wonder about that. I want to disagree a little bit. My husband works at a huge corporation. I used to work at a big media company and we felt all of this politically correct pressure.

But it just seems like “critical race theory”—despite the bit of pushback against it that Nick mentions—is actually going to grow in influence.

May I just say, I find critical race theory and everything related to it is all just terribly divisive and it seems to have taken over the culture in a very negative way.

So I wonder what’s the best way for Christians who want to stand for an end to ethnic tension, to do that in an environment like this. How do we do it?

STONESTREET: Well, I think both of you have some really important points. First of all, Critical Race Theory is all about power dynamics and it solves a power dynamic or a perceived power dynamic by offering another power dynamic. That’s what the whole theory is based on. And so when powerful people, then, decide not to promote it, that’s a net win, not a net loss because it is an unfortunate and an inaccurate view of the human person. 

At the same time, I agree that it’s going to grow. I mean, certainly the president isn’t going to be able to counter what’s happening across all the pre-political institutions where this form of political correctness—and I’m not even sure I’d put it in that category as much as I’d just put it in this dominant neo-Marxist sort of way of seeing the world—has just basically gone from disputed to unquestioned overnight. In other words, there is a deep desire from corporate America and a deep desire in academic institutions—not to mention media companies—I mean, at this particular point, I hate the word virtue signal, but it’s very much that. It’s very much a need to show here’s what we’re doing. 

I’ll tell you, the only way that I can see that we’re going to be able to address this is to show the limits of critical theory in all of its forms and I think it’s, by the way, the wrong move to limit critical theory to critical race theory. That’s its expression right now, but I can’t help but think there’s going to be an awful lot of buyers remorse of critical theory in general when it goes from critical race theory to critical queer theory tomorrow. 

At the same time, we’re not going to succeed here, and I think the church is—maybe some of us in the church are doing this—spending all of our time and energy critiquing critical race theory without taking seriously the kind of racial oppression and the racial injustices and even systemic realities that do actually exist. Right now, too many are being caught up in this conversation as if anybody who talks about systemic injustice has bought into critical theory. And that’s not true. Those two things are independent notions and independent ideas. And we can both seek to address both personal and structural injustices without going down the path of critical theory, that the whole world should be divided into good guys and bad guys based on power dynamics. But we’re not going to be able to critique that unless we can actually deal with the sort of reconciliation that needs to happen across community lines.

And, by the way, I think especially across socio-economic lines, I think those lines, perhaps are even more stark these days than the ethnic ones.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thanks!

STONESTREET: Thanks!


(Jasin Boland/Disney via AP) This image released by Disney shows Yifei Liu, center, in the title role of “Mulan.” 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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