2 weeks after China’s unofficial ban on Marvel films came to an end, Disney has barred Hong Kong Disney+ subscribers from watching an episode of “The Simpsons” that criticizes the country’s authoritarian government.
The episode, “One Angry Lisa,” first aired in October. It features a scene where a Peloton instructor (parodied as Pedolan) says, “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where children make smartphones.” Financial times first reported the episode was pulled, a move later confirmed by Axios.
A fairly throwaway joke that, unfortunately, also accurately describes conditions in china. Disney of course has had a difficult and arguably problematic relationship with China over the years. The company took considerable heat back in 2020 for a 78-second-long scene in the live action remake of “Mulan” that was filmed in Xinjiang province; the province is the location of interment camps where members of the Uyghur ethnic minority and other Muslims have been sent for the last 6 years.
Disney has also been accused of limiting LGBTQ content in its bigger movies in order to avoid China’s strict laws restricting depictions of same sex relationships.
But China is one of the world’s most lucrative film markets, a market Disney (and most US studios) have been shut out since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Once Chinese movie theaters reopened following lockdowns, very few western films have been allowed in, the major exceptions being the “Fast & Furious” film “F9” and “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which has grossed $220 million there.
The Chinese film board never discloses why a film is banned, which forced more speculation than actual explanation, but Marvel films in particular appear to have been banned for political reasons. When “Eternals” director Chloe Zhao won the Academy Award for Best Director for “Nomadland,” which she also won Best Picture that year. The victory was censored in Chinese media because of a 2013 interview in which she described China as “a place where there are lies everywhere.” Similarly, Simu Liu, star of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” is Canadian but immigrated from China as a young child, and he has also criticized China publicly.
But on Jan. 23, China approved release dates for both “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” bringing an end to the unofficial ban — and it would appear Disney doesn’t want to rock the boat.