Walt Disney Company Executive Chairman Bob Iger’s name has been bandied around as a possible Ambassador to China in President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration, but The Washington Post’s contributing columnist Sonny Bunch says that Iger’s efforts to “placate” the Chinese government make him a very bad choice.
“The Biden administration shouldn’t put Iger — or any other entertainment industry bigwig, for that matter — in charge of diplomatic relations with China,” Bunch wrote in his Sunday op-ed. “Our media moguls have spent years accommodating Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party. Tapping one of them for this critical post would send the disastrous message that the U.S. government intends to do the same.”
Iger’s involvement and experience with the Chinese government leading up to the opening of Walt Disney’s theme park in Shanghai “should give pause to those who believe he would serve America’s interests well in China,” Bunch said.
“The creation of the park was an education in geopolitics, and a constant balancing act between the possibilities of global expansion and the perils of cultural imperialism. The overwhelming challenge, which I repeated to our team so often it became a mantra for everyone working on the project, was to create an experience that was ‘authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese,'” Iger wrote in his 20219 memoir, “The Ride of a Lifetime,” and which Bunch notes as to Iger’s mindset in dealing with the Chinese government.
But it was also while Iger was in charge that Marvel recast the Tibetan character of The Ancient One in the “Doctor Strange” movies as a Celtic woman played by Tilda Swinton. On the heels of the release of the film’s trailer, fans of the franchise flooded the internet with their outrage, calling the casting choice racist.
Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill’s explained to Vanity Fair, “If you acknowledge that Tibet is a place and that [a character is] Tibetan, you risk alienating one billion people … and risk the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.'”
Disney was criticized just this past September for filming “Mulan” in Xinjiang province, where the Chinese government was accused of human rights abuses and a million mostly Muslim Uighurs were thought to have been detained in high-security camps. Disney thanked the Xinjiang government security agency in the film’s closing credits.
“Iger’s attempt to shy away from ‘cultural imperialism’ — what someone less in thrall [sic] of Chinese yuan might describe as ‘soft power,’ or the ability to show an oppressed people a better, freer way of living — is understandable if all that matters to him is the bottom line,” Bunch wrote. “But what about the United States?”
“The least Biden could do is refrain from installing as our representative to China a man who has made his millions bowing and scraping to [President Xi Jinping] at the behest of shareholders looking to squeeze every last yuan out of Chinese movie screens,” Bunch concluded. “The United States deserves to be represented on the world stage by someone who puts our national values ahead of personal profits.”