Disney cuts Simpsons China ‘forced labour’ episode in Hong Kong

Removal marks the second time Disney has dropped a Simpsons episode from its service in Hong Kong.

Characters from The Simpsons pose before the premiere of "The Simpsons Movie", Springfield, Vermont, July 21, 2007. Walt Disney Co. has been recently removed an episode from cartoon series The Simpsons that included a reference to “forced labor camps” in China from its streaming service in Hong Kong. (AP Photo)
The Walt Disney Co has recently removed an episode from cartoon series The Simpsons that included a reference to 'forced labour camps' in China, from its streaming service in Hong Kong [File: AP Photo]

The Walt Disney Company has removed an episode of The Simpsons cartoon series that included a reference to “forced labour camps” in China from its streaming service in Hong Kong.

The episode One Angry Lisa, which first aired in October on television, is not available on the US company’s Disney Plus streaming service in Hong Kong.

It was not clear on Wednesday when the episode was removed from Hong Kong connections using the Disney streaming service, but the episode is still available elsewhere, news agencies reported. The removal of the cartoon comes amid growing censorship concerns in the city

In the removed episode, Simpsons character Marge Simpson takes a virtual spin class whose instructor is in front of a virtual background of the Great Wall of China and says: “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labour camps where children make smartphones.”

Disney did not immediately provide comment while the Hong Kong government said it does not comment on decisions made by individual businesses.

It is the second time that the streaming service’s Hong Kong version has dropped a Simpsons episode that satirised China. The previously affected episode showed the Simpsons visiting Beijing’s Tiananmen Square – the site of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters – and finding a sign there that read: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

The US entertainment-focused Hollywood Reporter newspaper noted at the time that the Simpsons episode on Tiananmen Square had “suffered precisely the kind of censorship it was written to ridicule”.

The issue of forced labour is sensitive in China.

Western governments and activists have for years accused China of imprisoning hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities — mainly Uyghurs — in the western region of Xinjiang in detention camps. China has rejected accusations it uses forced labour, saying the camps are education centres designed to teach Mandarin Chinese and vocational skills.

Beijing has also increasingly imposed its controls over Hong Kong, which in 2021 passed censorship laws forbidding broadcasts that might breach a broad national security law that China has imposed on the city.

Censors have since ordered directors to make cuts to their films and refused permission for others to be shown.

Censorship of Western television series or films is already common in mainland China, with censors deleting scenes or banning content seen as going against values deemed appropriate by the Chinese Communist Party.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies