Disney dropped an episode that included a joke about Tiananmen Square from its streaming service in Hong Kong, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Disney+ earlier this month debuted with 32 seasons of Simpsons episodes in Hong Kong but one, titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan,” is missing.
The episode features a scene where the family travels to China, passing a plaque at Tienanmen Square in Beijing saying “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened,” mocking the country’s attempts to censor its past.
The episode also included a reference to the iconic “Tank Man,” who stood up to a column of tanks in the square as the military tried to shut down student-led protests.
It’s unclear whether the company was pressured to drop the episode or whether it chose to do so on their own.
The episode was blocked amid rising concerns about censorship in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong last month passed a law allowing the government to ban films it considers a threat to national security.
“Whether it’s self-censorship or whether it’s direct censorship, it is based on the calculation of how significant the China market is to Disney, or any other American company,” Steve Tsang, the director of the SOAS China Institute in London, told the Journal. “It is about the China market. And the clear understanding that the Chinese government will not hesitate to use its economic muscle based on the size of its market to get its way.”
Disney has grown its business in the region, even opening a $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort in 2016. It also operates a smaller park in Hong Kong.
Did Disney self-censor?:
Grace Leung, an expert in media regulation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times the company likely censored the episode itself.
“Disney obviously sent out a clear signal to the local audience that it will remove controversial programs in order to please” the Chinese government, she said. “Their credibility will definitely be hurt.”
Leung predicted that the company was willing to potentially hurt its business in Hong Kong to appease the bigger Chinese market.
“The population is not so big,” she said. “They are ready to sacrifice Hong Kong’s market.”