Netflix’s high-profile plan to have Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss adapt Chinese writer Liu Cixin’s bestselling sci-fi trilogy The Three-Body Problem is getting a challenge from a group of Republican Senators.
In a letter sent to Netflix chief content officer and co-CEO Ted Sarandos Wednesday, the lawmakers allege that the streamer would be “normalizing” China’s mass imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s northwestern province of Xinjiang if it were to work with Liu. The senators quote from a lengthy interview Liu gave to The New Yorker in 2019, in which he responded to a question about China’s mass internment of Muslims by saying, “Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.”
The Senators’ letter poses a sequence of questions asking Netflix to justify its decision to proceed with the project in partnership with Liu (in full). The letter was signed by Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Martha McSally (R., Ariz.), Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.).
China’s brutal treatment of its Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang — which has included credible reports of forced labor, systematic “reeducation,” and forced sterilizations to reduce population sizes — has become a flashpoint in Hollywood. The Walt Disney Co. came under intense criticism earlier this month when it was revealed that the studio shot portions of its live-action adaptation of Mulan within Xinjiang Province, and later thanked local government police and propaganda agencies in the region in the film’s end credits.
Judd Apatow was among those who recently called out Hollywood’s silence on such issues, addressing the situation in a television interview and later tweeting, “China has concentration camps with as many as two million people there and so few people dare mention it that it becomes a news item when I do.”
Attorney General William Barr also gave a foreign policy speech in July in which he slammed the studios and tech companies for “kowtowing” to Beijing. “Hollywood actors, producers, and directors pride themselves on celebrating freedom and the human spirit,” Barr said. “But Hollywood now regularly censors its own movies to appease the Chinese Communist Party, the world’s most powerful violator of human rights,” he added.
Liu’s The Three Body Problem trilogy is a global publishing phenomenon. The first book in the series won sci-fi’s highest honor, the Hugo Award, in 2015 — a first for an Asian writer. The series has since become an international bestseller, translated into dozens of languages, and praised by critics for its vast scope and originality.
Netflix’s big-budget plan to adapt the property, announced on Sept. 1, naturally was big news to sci-fi enthusiasts. Benioff and Weiss are teaming with The Terror: Infamy showrunner Alexander Woo for the project, with heavyweights like Rian Johnson, Rosamund Pike and Brad Pitt’s Plan B among its executive producers.
The Three-Body Problem is the first series order for Benioff and Weiss since they signed a nine-figure overall deal at Netflix in 2019, after the conclusion of Game of Thrones.
Until now, Netflix mostly has escaped the scrutiny that Hollywood studios are facing over their pattern of self-censorship on issues deemed sensitive to China. In August, PEN America published a report detailing how the major studios increasingly are making creative choices “based on an effort to avoid antagonizing Chinese officials” — for fear of being locked out from the country’s vast theatrical film market.
Netflix, however, hasn’t had to worry about losing access to Chinese consumers, because the company, like all other U.S. streaming, search and social media services, already is blocked by Beijing’s vast internet censorship regime. Netflix even has produced or acquired projects that no major studio would conceivably touch, such as a documentary about the famed Hong Kong pro-democracy protestor Joshua Wong.
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Netflix for comment.