An episode of The Simpsons that ridicules Chinese Communist Party censorship has been removed from Disney’s streaming platform in Hong Kong in what appears to be another example of Hollywood caving to Beijing’s censorship demands.
Users of the Disney+ streaming service in Hong Kong noted that a 2005 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Goo Goo Gai Pan" was absent from the platform, according to news reports. In the episode, the Simpson family visits the site of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which is commemorated in the show with a plaque that reads, "On this site, in 1989, nothing happened." The episode also criticizes Mao Zedong and depicts "Tank Man," the Chinese dissident photographed blocking a Chinese military tank during protests at Tiananmen.
It is unclear if the Chinese government pressured Disney to block the episode or if the company proactively removed it when Disney+ began streaming in Hong Kong this month. Disney did not respond to a request for comment.
The decision highlights mainland China’s tightened grip on Hong Kong, as well as Hollywood’s willingness to censor content to maintain access to the Chinese box office. The Hong Kong government last month passed a law allowing for more censorship of films airing in the city in order to comply with mainland China’s national security law. Beijing has passed a series of measures to bring the historically democratic Hong Kong in line with Communist Party values. Chinese authorities have used the law to shutter newspapers and arrest journalists and dissidents.
Disney came under fire last year for filming parts of Mulan in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government carries out human-rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs. Credits for the film included special thanks to several Chinese Communist Party propaganda agencies. In 2016, Disney replaced a Tibetan monk character with a Celtic mystic in its film Doctor Strange in order to avoid controversy over the Tibetan sovereignty debate.
While Disney has kowtowed to China, it has not shied away from social activism at home. Disney donated $5 million to social justice groups last year in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Its subsidiaries ABC and ESPN endorsed the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
Disney pledged earlier this year not to contribute to Republican candidates who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election.