Disney must be wondering how it all went so wrong.
Disney’s Mulan movie is cursed.
I’m not that sympathetic. It had ‘cynical cash-grab’ written all over it from the get-go.
And I can see how it made sense in Disney boardrooms back in 2015.
The idea of pitching a marquee blockbuster to the lucrative Chinese market made perfect sense.
Sure, we all had concerns about China then. But the west was still in the habit of bending over backwards to please China, if the price was right. The last movie to criticise China was made all the way back in 1997. Hollywood had long-since apologised for making movies about Tibet.
And Disney knew about potential human rights breeches in Xinjiang, where the film was eventually made. But hey, show me somewhere where there aren’t human rights violations. And anyway, this is about economics, not morality.
But no one could have predicted just how quickly things between the West and the East would end up going South.
When Mulan launched a week ago, it was into an entirely different world, and into a throes of a new cold war. It didn’t matter that Covid had made it very difficult for people to go out and watch films anyway, though of course that was always going to make it challenging.
Mulan was being seen through a geo-political lens.
And in that way, it just didn’t matter how good or bad the film is (it sucks apparently), audiences the world over were primed to hate it.
Hollywood bent over backward to please the CCPs sensitivities, and worked hard to make the movie as “Chinese feeling” as possible – paying great attention to authenticity in costume, culture and history.
However, in the end, it was like French chefs coming here and telling us how to make vegemite sandwiches. The Chinese media was full of posts saying, “Hey America, leave our culture alone.”
… Before the CCP just went ahead and banned media outlets from talking about it anyway.
And for the American audience, there was no appetite for fawning and uncritical pieces about China.
It wasn’t that long ago that the film’s leading actor, Liu Yifei, was tweeting support for Hong Kong’s police during the pro-democracy demonstration, giving birth to the #boycottMulan hashtag.
Disney found itself trying to please both sides of the most epic culture war in a generation, and there was just no way that they could do it.
And so it bombed.
But think about this. How many businesses are in Disney’s shoes?
How many businesses ended 2019 with dreams of expanding further into China’s market, or dreams of leveraging Chinese supply chains to competitive advantage?
And how many of them are realising that they’re going to have to go back to the drawing board.
I just don’t think people get how much things have changed, and how quickly.
The world has pivoted, almost overnight.
We’re no longer talking about ‘integration’. In the US, in Australia, in Europe, (in India!) we’re talking about ‘decoupling’.
This is massive.
History will end up seeing Covid as a very clear line in the sand between two very different global economic orders.
I think you could wish it were different. I dig the Chinese people. They’re fun. They’re industrious. What’s not to love?
And if there was a vision there of us all coming together in a harmonious global family, then that’d be a beautiful thing.
But that’s not what geo-politics has planned for us.
History is still the contest of empires.
And we’ve just got to do the best we can.