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Disney pulled a Simpsons episode because the company makes too much money from China

Published Feb 7th, 2023 7:01PM EST
The Simpsons is streaming now on Disney Plus.
Image: Fox

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In recent years, Disney has increasingly tried to assert itself as a champion of progressive causes and also pushed for its content to be more inclusive — as seen, for example, in the company’s 2017’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, which featured the first openly gay character in a Disney film. Even so, there does seem to be a clear limit to the kinds of causes that the entertainment giant is willing to go to bat for. Based on Disney’s decision to appease China and pull an episode of The Simpsons from Disney Plus in Hong Kong, for example, standing up for human rights there is apparently a bridge too far.

Disney kowtows to China over The Simpsons

Revenue-wise, China is a hugely important market for the Money — sorry, the Magic Kingdom, which probably explains why Disney decided to err on the side of caution in Hong Kong and keep The Simpsons episode in question (titled One Angry Lisa, which aired back in October) off of the company’s streamer, which is where you can catch watch old episodes of the classic comedy.

Hong Kong is, of course, where China is increasingly asserting more heavy-handed control these days. It’s, thus, also where an American animated series in which a mom, Marge Simpson, taking a spin class with images of the Great Wall of China displayed on the screen — and with an instructor telling the class that it’s a country where “children make smartphones” in “forced labor camps” — wouldn’t exactly play well with the regime.

“Capitalism is capitalism,” one critic of the company opined on Twitter, “but a company like Disney, that continuously spews how diverse and inclusive they are, should stand up for what they supposedly believe in instead of bending over backwards for China’s money. It’s hypocrisy.”

This isn’t a one-off, either, by the way.

Disney has done this same thing before, keeping an episode of The Simpsons off of Disney Plus in Hong Kong to stay in the regime’s good graces. It happened previously in 2021 when Disney pulled an episode that made a Tiananmen Square joke.

Protestor in Hong Kong
A protester in Hong Kong holds up a blank piece of paper and a candle during a demonstration. The protesters took to the streets and held a vigil by offering candles, flowers, and blank sheets of white paper (symbolizing censorship) while chanting, “We do not want authoritarianism, do not want a monarchy” to express their opposition against President Xi Jinping. Image source: Ben Marans/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

China’s treatment of Uyghurs

As for this latest instance of Disney self-imposing censorship, the comment about labor camps is clearly a reference to China’s mass detention of its Muslim Uyghur population.

There are believed to be up to 1,200 internment camps in the country where Uyghurs are being forcibly held, according to the US State Department. Explains the department via its website: “Forced labor is a central tactic used for this repression.”

Against that backdrop, meanwhile, while Disney is pulling episodes of The Simpsons off Disney Plus for Hong Kong audiences, protestors there continue to advocate for democratic reform. To learn more along those lines, there’s a very good documentary on Netflix titled Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower.

From the streamer’s synopsis:

“Mobilized by teenage activist Joshua Wong, young citizens of Hong Kong take to the streets in a bid to preserve their history of autonomy from China.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.