Streamer takes down ‘One Angry Lisa’ episode from its Season 34 offering, joining a previously removed episode from Season 16 which mentions Tiananmen Square.
Despite China recently lifting the longstanding ban on Marvel films, content censorship has changed very little in the country. The Guardian has confirmed that recent The Simpsons Season 34 episode “One Angry Lisa,” which briefly mentions Chinese “forced labor camps,” has been removed from Disney+ streaming services in Hong Kong. While the government has long been accused of running forced labor camps, it continues to swiftly and fiercely deny their existence.
The recent removal of the Season 34 episode reflects the People’s Republic of China (PRC) current efforts to increase control over Hong Kong (an administrative region of the PRC), which has historically upheld a greater degree of cultural, political, and social freedoms, though that has slowly changed since the 1997 handover from the U.K. While Hong Kong’s legislature passed a film censorship law in 2020 to “safeguard national security” from “sedition, secession and subversion” against Beijing, this was not meant to apply to streaming services.
Episode 12 of The Simpsons Season 16 was also “left out” on Disney+ Hong Kong when the platform first launched in 2021. The episode featured the iconic family on a visit to Tiananmen Square, which displayed a plaque that read “on this site, in 1989, nothing happened,” a nod to the country’s masking of its violent repression of student protestors at the famed location across from the Forbidden City and ancient Imperial Palace in Beijing.
Disney has yet to comment, although the media giant has been quick to omit content critical of China before, most likely to secure continued content distribution in the Middle Kingdom.
And of course, let’s not forget the South Park controversy from 2019 that also involved Disney in the episode, “Band in China.” That October, all online references to Comedy Central’s South Park, including clips, episodes and discussions, were literally scrubbed from the internet in China, in response to the episode.
The offending episode featured dual story lines. In one, Randy Marsh gets arrested for selling marijuana in China and is sent to a work camp patterned after the Xinjiang Provence camps Western sources claim are holding more than one million Chinese Muslims for forced “re-education,” a claim Chinese authorities still deny. At the camp, Randy happens to run into fellow prisoner Winnie the Pooh, a not-so-subtle jab at Chinese censors’ ongoing ban on imagery of the gentle, honey-loving stuffed animal after online mocking of president Xi Jinping’s slightly rounded bear-shaped physique using the iconic character became a viral sensation several years before. In the second, our favorite South Park lads form a heavy metal band that gains enough popularity to attract a manager; the script of a film they plan to make keeps changing in their hopes of securing Chinese distribution. In one hilarious moment, Stans says, “Now I know how Hollywood writers feel," while a Chinese guard stands over him as he works on the script. In another shot at Disney, Mickey Mouse makes an appearance to ensure Marvel and other Disney cartoon characters make nice with Chinese authorities.
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker issued a mea culpa of sorts a day later, welcoming Chinese censors “into our homes and into our hearts,” while also promoting the show’s 300th episode.