The Disney+ streaming service in Hong Kong has omitted a recent episode of “The Simpsons” long-running cartoon series that was critical of the mainland Chinese government.
The episode “One Angry Lisa” (episode 2 of season 34) sees Lisa called up for jury duty and Marge become obsessed with her exercise bike. While on a virtual bike tour the episode carries images of the Great Wall of China and the exercise instructor says “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labor camps where children make smartphones.”
Local sources have confirmed to Variety that the episode is not available in Hong Kong, a ‘special administrative region’ of China that has a degree of policy independence from Beijing. Contacted by Variety, Disney offered no comment.
The labor camps reference would appear to be criticism of China’s policies in Xinjiang, the large province where the government has been widely criticized by the United Nations, western governments and human rights organizations for a range of measures that are alleged to oppress the Muslim Uighur population. China denies abuse and says its measures are designed to combat domestic terrorism and grow the province’s economy.
While streaming video is not specifically covered by a recently updated film censorship regulations in Hong Kong, the episode may fall foul of other laws.
In 2020, following a period of social unrest, China introduced a National Security Law in Hong Kong that outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign organizations. The law has impacted many aspects of society in the territory, from education and elections to news media and flag-waving.
Monday saw the beginning of a trial of 16 pro-democracy campaigners who potentially face life imprisonment for subversion, having been involved in the holding of unofficial primary elections in July 2020.
Disney has previously removed an older, 2005 episode of “The Simpsons” which touched on the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, from its service in Hong Kong.
Disney has previously explained that it operates a policy of following local laws and regulations in all the territories that it operates.
Despite that, “The Simpsons” takedown is likely to reignite criticism of Disney which has substantial economic interests in China and has previously been accused of pandering to the China government. It attracted criticism for shooting part of “Mulan” in Xinjiang. The group operates major theme parks in both Hong Kong and Shanghai.
The studio’s film distribution side recently received a surprising boost in mainland China in the form of import permits for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and “Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” after a three-year hiatus on imports for Marvel films.