Disney took down a Simpsons episode poking fun at Chinese human rights abuses from its Disney+ streaming service in Hong Kong, according to several reports Monday, as the entertainment giant again attracts controversy for its acquiescence to the wishes of Chinese authorities.
The October 2022 episode, which included a joke about “forced labor camps where children make smartphones” is no longer available in Hong Kong, the Financial Times first reported, later confirmed by other outlets.
It’s far from the first China-related controversy clouding over Disney, which is among the many American multinational corporations relying upon the country for a sizable chunk of its business. Disney+ scrubbed a 2005 Simpson episode from Disney+ in Hong Kong because it referenced the Tiananmen Square massacre (Disney+ nor any other major American streaming service officially operates in mainland China). The removal was a “clear signal to the local audience that it will remove controversial programs in order to please” the Chinese government, Grace Leung, a media policy professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the New York Times at the time. And Disney found itself in a far greater firestorm upon the 2020 release of the live-action remake of Mulan, after the film included “special thanks” to Xinjiang authorities in the post-film credits. Critics of Disney’s cozy relationship with local Chinese government agencies also included shareholders, who proposed for Disney to disclose its due diligence process in vetting foreign governments moving forward. The company also received criticism from pro-Democracy groups in Hong Kong, who called for a boycott of Mulan, and U.S. lawmakers including Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who blasted Disney for supporting Xinjiang authorities “lying to the world about these crimes.”
Disneyland in Shanghai, which first opened in 2016, reopened in June 2022 after a closure of more than two years amid China’s “zero-Covid” policies, though it had to shut its doors at least four times last year due to Covid outbreaks. Disney reported $28.7 billion in revenue for its parks, experiences and consumer products division in the 12 months ending October 1, 2022, a nearly 75% increase year-over-year as people returned to parks worldwide.