Disney has pulled an episode of The Simpsons from its streaming platform Disney+ after a controversial joke regarding “forced labor camps” in mainland China caused controversy in Hong Kong.
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The Simpsons, an animated sitcom distributed by 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios) since 1989, features mature humor and many satirical elements poking fun at pop culture and relevant societal issues. After the Walt Disney Company acquired Fox in a dubiously lucrative merger, the show began airing on the Company’s streaming service Disney+ and Hulu.
Although the episode first aired in October of 2022, CNN reports it has come under recent fire due to a scene in the show referencing accusations of a forced labor camp in China’s western Xinjiang region, rumored to have committed numerous human rights violations. In fact, allegations made by the United States State Department range from “political indoctrination and forced labor” to “torture and sexual abuse,” particularly against two million members of the Muslim Uyghur population and other ethnic minorities.
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In the episode, the main character Marge Simpson attends an indoor cycling spin class featuring an online instructor before a virtual background of China’s Great Wall, who says, “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where children make smartphones, and romance.” Moreover, this is the second time controversy has risen from the Simpsons due to what China deemed overly critical content, after a 2021 sequence in which the cartoon family visits China’s capital, the site of the tragic 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy activists, to find a sign reading: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”
Of course, Chinese officials have denied any credibility to the Uyghur internment camp allegations but have convinced Disney to pull the episode for violating Hong Kong’s national security law passed three years ago banning any “sedition, secession and subversion” against Beijing. Interestingly, this suggests perhaps that Disney felt the episode did not fit the “wholesome” Disney brand, especially since Disney holds a working relationship with Hong Kong, which hosts one of two Asian Disney Parks, the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.
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Not to mention, Disney has also come under fire for utilizing unethical Chinese labor to make many of its products and filming parts of the live-action Mulan (2020) inside the boundaries of the aforementioned Uyghur camp. No matter the reason, the episode is off Disney+, but Chinese users can still view it via Hulu, where it remains available.