By Tenzin Dedan
DHARAMSHALA, Nov 15: In a yet another move that signals the power dynamics between Hollywood and China, entertainment giant Disney has banned Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film “Kundun” in all formats, in response to Chinese government pressure. The film captures the story of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama and the Chinese occupation of his homeland, produced by a major studio.
The controversy surrounding “Kundun” dates back to its inception in 1996 when cameras started rolling. According to reports from World of Reel, Disney received a call from the Chinese embassy expressing the government’s anger. A Chinese Film Bureau official stated, “We are resolutely opposed to the making of this movie. It is intended to glorify the Dalai Lama, so it is an interference in China’s internal affairs.”
The repercussions were swift, with Disney CEO Michael Eisner revealing to The New York Times that “all of our business in China stopped overnight.” Moreover, Martin Scorsese and some members of the cast remains banned from entering China due to his association with “Kundun.”
Christian Toto, an award-winning film critic and journalist, explained the damage control measures Disney took to appease the Chinese government. In October 1998, Eisner met with Chinese premier Zhu Rongji to discuss plans for a Disney theme park in China. Regarding “Kundun,” Eisner stated, “The bad news is that the film was made; the good news is that nobody watched it.” He went on to apologize, pledging to prevent such incidents in the future.
China, however, was not satisfied with mere apologies. The government demanded further concessions, including forcing Disney to buy distribution rights to Chinese films and hiring a Chinese performance group to promote “Mulan” in Europe.
The fallout from these events is felt even today, 26 years after the film’s release. Disney has placed the movie “Kundun” in a vault, making it currently unavailable for viewing. The official trailer has been removed from the internet, and physical copies are challenging to obtain, with several Blu-ray editions marked as “currently unavailable” on Amazon.
The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) recently investigated the cultural banishment of “Kundun,” producing a YouTube video titled ‘The Movie Disney Doesn’t Want You to See’. The video has gone viral, raising awareness of the situation, although mainstream media coverage has been limited, with Christian Toto being one of the few journalists addressing the issue.