Disney has cut an episode of The Simpsons cartoon that refers to “forced labour camps” in China from its streaming platform in Hong Kong.
The episode, which first aired in October last year during the show’s latest season, was unavailable on the Disney Plus streaming platform in Hong Kong, the Financial Times has learned.
This appears to be the second time an episode from the show, which is produced by the Disney-owned 20th Television Animation, has been omitted from the streaming platform.
A previous episode of The Simpsons that made reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was dropped from the service in 2021.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city in 2020, which bans broadly defined crimes including secession and subversion as part of a clampdown on its political opposition and civil society.
The latest Simpsons episode, titled “One Angry Lisa”, features a scene in which Marge Simpson takes a virtual bike class and the instructor, over images of China’s Great Wall, says: “Behold the wonders of China. Bitcoin mines, forced labour camps where children make smartphones.”
China has faced allegations of abuses including forced labour against the Uyghur people and other mostly Muslim minorities at mass detention centres in the north-western Xinjiang region.
A UN report last year accused Beijing of “serious human rights violations” that could constitute “crimes against humanity”. Beijing has denied accusations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.
Kenny Ng, associate professor at the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University who specialises in censorship, said Disney might have proactively scrubbed the episode out of concern for its business in mainland China, which includes its theme parks.
The move had “more to do with the company’s ties, current and future, in mainland China”, Ng said. “It could be strategic to eliminate any China-offending episodes.”
In response to a request for comment, the Hong Kong government said a film censorship regime introduced in 2021, which forbids films from endangering national security, “does not apply to streaming services”. A spokesperson did not comment on whether the government had approached Disney to remove the episode. Disney declined to comment.
This month, Disney will screen two Marvel films in China, the first to receive approval for distribution in the mainland market since 2019.
The company was accused of self-censorship in 2021 when an episode from The Simpsons, which satirised Beijing’s repression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, disappeared from its Disney Plus streaming platform in Hong Kong.
The episode, which was first broadcast in 2005, featured a visit to Tiananmen Square, where a large sign said: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.” Homer Simpson also called the former Chinese Communist party chair Mao Zedong a “little angel” who killed millions.
Disney also drew criticism in 2020 for filming scenes of its $200mn live-action remake of Mulan in Xinjiang.