Mulan, Disney’s live-action update on its 1998 animated classic grossed an estimated RMB 52.5M ($8.26M) on its opening Friday in China. The figure includes midnights, and portends a three-day weekend around $26M. This is a disappointment for the Niki Caro-directed movie which has faced mounting controversy in recent days, and will have suffered from piracy as it was released elsewhere on Disney+ last week.
Reviews site Douban is giving Mulan a low 4.7 while ticketing platform Maoyan has it graded at 7.7, lower than the norm for live-action Disney titles. It is early days, but now looks like the $200M production could finish its China run in the mid-$40Ms. Last weekend, it debuted to solid numbers in a handful of smaller markets.
Reuters reported yesterday that Chinese authorities have told major local media outlets not to cover the release. This came amid rising backlash owing to the fact that the film’s credits thank the Xinjiang authorities, including one entity that is on the U.S.-sanctions list, for their cooperation in making Mulan. Xinjiang province is an area where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.
On Wednesday this week, U.S. senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo) sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, condemning the company for what Hawley called “whitewashing the ongoing genocide of Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities during the production of Mulan.” Yesterday, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy allowed that the controversy “has generated a lot of issues for us.”
Despite, or perhaps before the local blackout on media reporting, communist party mouthpiece The Global Times published an op-ed titled “Attack on Mulan tragedy for American society” and called the backlash over Xinjiang “another manifestation of the extreme ideologies regarding China among U.S. public opinion.” It added, “The truth-seeking spirit of American public opinion has short-circuited on Xinjiang-related issues and the understanding of China. As a socialist country, China attaches great importance to people’s livelihood and has been providing preferential treatment to ethnic minorities for a long time. How can the country possibly carry out the so-called vicious crackdown on a specific ethnic group as Washington portrays?… Now, even a film company has to experience scrutiny, thanks to the above-mentioned labeling… This is depravity.”
Mulan stars such China-born actors as Jet Li, Gong Li, Donnie Yen and Liu Yifei, and is based on a Chinese folk story. The latter had sparked a #BoycottMulan social media frenzy in summer 2019 when she wrote that she stood with the Hong Kong police who were engaged in an oppressive crackdown on anti-government demonstrators and journalists. Thinking at the time had been that people in China would deliberately go to the movie in order to protest the boycott, and might benefit box office. But a lot of time has passed since then.
In July 2019, for example, the teaser trailer for Mulan logged 175.1M online views in its first 24 hours, topping all Disney Live Action comps save The Lion King. Of those global look-sees, 52M came from China. The video uploaded by Disney there was reposted with frequency in the neighborhood of teasers for such mega Disney/Marvel titles as Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War.