The Disney-owned studio Searchlight pressured the American magazine Filmmaker to remove a quote from its profile of Chinese director Chloé Zhao because it was critical of China’s authoritarian regime, according to a Hollywood Reporter article published Friday.
Speaking with Filmmaker about the inspiration behind her first feature film, Songs My Brother Taught Me, Zhao said that she identified with the main character — a Native American teenager looking to flee South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation — because she hoped to escape the dictatorial grip of the Chinese Communist Party when she was a child.
“It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere,” the quote read. “You felt like you were never going to be able to get out. A lot of info I received when I was younger was not true, and I became very rebellious toward my family and my background. I went to England suddenly and relearned my history. Studying political science in a liberal arts college was a way for me to figure out what is real. Arm yourself with information, and then challenge that too.”
Spotlight, and by extension Disney, then demanded the American media outlet omit Zhao’s testimony, seemingly appeasing its Chinese business partners in order to preserve its access to the lucrative Chinese consumer market.
The quote was removed from Filmmaker’s website, but the archived versions resurfaced in China after Zhao was awarded the best director win at the Golden Globes ceremony. In response, Chinese officials cancelled the local release of Zhao’s latest film Nomadland in April and buried the incident by eliminating all traces of her mention on the internet, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Through its infamous firewall and other information restrictions, China has obscured Zhao’s popularity and accolades from the public, fully censoring the Oscars in which she received multiple academy awards for her work on Nomadland.
Disney received backlash last year for producing the live-action remake of the children’s classic Mulan in the Xinjiang region of China, where the Uighur Muslim minorities have been brutally oppressed and held in detainment camps by the CCP in a way that legally constitutes genocide.
The entertainment conglomerate has made an concerted effort to enforce stricter diversity and inclusion standards within the company, mandating employee training that teaches that the U.S. was founded on “systemic racism” and asks participants to complete an “white privilege checklist.”
Disney, however, has so far dedicated little attention or air time to the systemic racism and human rights violations China is perpetrating against religious and ethnic groups in Xinjiang and Hong Kong dissidents.