Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Disney+ scrubs ‘Simpsons’ episode in Hong Kong over Tiananmen Square joke

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Disney+ users in Hong Kong have noticed that the an episode of “The Simpsons,” in which the cartoon family visits Tiananmen Square, was scrubbed from the streaming service.

The missing episode comes at a time when Chinese authorities are cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong, and it adds to concerns that China’s censorship is becoming the norm in the international business hub.

The 16th season of the iconic Fox animated show, which is on Disney+, skips from episode 11 to 13 for customers in Hong Kong. The missing episode 12, first broadcast in 2005, happens to be the one where Homer takes his family to China, where they visit Tiananmen Square, site of the deadly crackdown in 1989 against democracy protesters. In the cartoon, the family comes across a placard that reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened,” a satirical reference to China’s campaign to purge memories of what happened.

It is not clear whether Disney+ removed the episode or if it was ordered by Chinese authorities. Neither Disney nor representatives for the Hong Kong or Chinese government returned requests for comment.

Disney streaming service menu showing episode 12 missing.
Episode 12 looks to be missing on Disney+’s streaming service menu when accessed in Hong Kong.
Disney+

The move was ridiculed on Twitter, where one Hong Kong-based reporter tweeted an image from the episode, writing: “Disney has allegedly removed one episode of The Simpsons from the Hong Kong edition of Disney+, which described the family’s visit to Beijing and carried this famous scene.”

Until recently, Hong Kong, a former British colony that was handed back to China in 1997, has enjoyed political and artistic freedoms of speech when compared to the mainland. But that is slowly changing after widespread pro-democracy protests swept Hong Kong two years ago.

Simpsons China episode image of satirical statue
The joke seen in “The Simpsons” episode in question.
Disney+

Several new measures have been introduced in Hong Kong, including new censorship laws introduced this summer that forbid any broadcasts that might breach a broad national security law China imposed on the city last year. For instance, authorities have orders directors to cut offending scenes and refused permission for some films to be shown to the public.

Even as there are concerns that China could enforce stricter censorship laws regarding the internet, content that satirizes China is still available on other streaming platforms in Hong Kong.

For instance, Netflix’s Hong Kong channel is still showing “South Park’s” “Band in China” episode, according to The Guardian. In that episode, Stan’s father Randy ends up in a Chinese labor camp and much of the show lampoons the willingness of American brands like Disney to adhere to Chinese censorship rules in order to make money.

South Park's "Band in China" episode still is accessible in the country on Netflix's streaming service, according to The Guardian.
South Park’s “Band in China” episode still is accessible in the country on Netflix’s streaming service, according to The Guardian.
Disney+

Netflix is also streaming “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower,” director Joe Piscatella’s documentary about the Hong Kong student activist who became the poster child of the mass pro-democracy movement that brought the city to a standstill in 2014, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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