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Disney+ users in Hong Kong have noticed an episode of The Simpsons is conspicuously missing.
The 16th season of the iconic Fox animated show jumps from episode 11 to 13 when viewers in the city browse the flagship Disney streaming service. 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 and come across a placard that reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”
It appears the episode has suffered precisely the kind of censorship it was written to ridicule.
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.
— Alvin Lum (@alvinllum) November 27, 2021
The censorship of such content would come as no surprise in Mainland China, where any mention of the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy student protestors has been scrubbed from public discourse. But the apparent voluntary removal of the episode in Hong Kong — especially when done by a major U.S. media company — is a relatively new feature of civic life there.
The episode also follows the Simpson family as they visit the mummified remains of ex-leader Mao Zedong and come across a row of tanks in Beijing, referencing the iconic “tank man” photo taken during the 1989 student uprising.
Under Beijing’s encroaching influence, Hong Kong’s legislature has passed a series of bills undermining the city’s former free speech laws. Last month, the legislature put in place a new law banning films deemed contrary to China’s national security interests — an intentionally vague designation — from being screened or distributed in the city. Any person who exhibits an unauthorized film could face up to three years in jail and a $130,000 fine.
The content rules governing streaming services in Hong Kong remain somewhat unclear, although analysts believe it’s only a matter of time before they are hit with the same restrictions that are undercutting the city’s once-vibrant film sector and international journalist community. When asked in August whether the new film law would apply to online platforms, a spokesperson for the city’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau told the Hong Kong Free Press that “other” laws apply to the internet: “[TV] broadcast and the Internet are subject to other applicable law and regulations. Whether an act constitutes a crime or otherwise would depend on its specific circumstances and evidence, and cannot be taken in isolation or generalized,” the spokesperson said.
Netflix nonetheless continues to host several pieces of content that would surely be banned from theatrical exhibition according to the new laws. Still streaming on Netflix in Hong Kong is Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, director Joe Piscatella’s documentary about the Hong Kong student activist who became the face of the mass pro-democracy movement that brought the city to a standstill in 2014.
“The new film rules in Hong Kong will have a chilling effect,” Piscatella told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year after the new censorship law was announced, adding, “One of the last vestiges of free speech in Hong Kong is now gone. The result is self-censorship by filmmakers who now have to question what might run afoul of the new rules and increased scrutiny by financiers and distributors who now must consider that very same question.”
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Disney for comment.
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