Senators Are Asking Netflix Not to Make Show With ‘Game of Thrones’ Creators

Published on September 24, 2020

This year, more state representatives have been focusing on Hollywood’s relationship with Chinese Propaganda groups. Commonly, major Hollywood studios will alter or cut content from their movies to appease Chinese censors. It’s a massive marketplace for major studios, so they go along with the censorship. Disney is currently under fire for thanking Chinese Propaganda departments linked to detention camps in the credits for Mulan. Now, U.S. Senators are going after Netflix and the Game of Thrones creators.

The Conflict

The Game of Thrones creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have a development deal at Netflix. One of the shows they plan on making for the streaming series is based on the popular sci-fi trilogy, “The Three Body-Problem,” from author Liu Cixin. The books are about the world’s first contact with aliens.

According to Tennesse Senator Marsha Blackburn, Cixin has “parroted” China’s community party talking points. Blackburn means the talking points about Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The region is where Uighur Muslims are kept in internment camps against their will.

Cixin’s Comments

It’s not the first project from the Game of Thrones creators which has drawn controversy. The duo was once developing a show that depicted the United States in which the South won the Civil War. HBO, Benioff, and Weiss eventually canned that project. Now, the storytellers are facing criticism for adapting Cixin’s work. 

Blackburn and five other Republican Senators point to a New Yorker interview with Liu as their proof. Journalist Jiayang Fan asked the author about the camps, and she wrote, “He trotted out the familiar arguments of government-controlled media: ‘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… If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.” 

The Letter

Netflix CEO, Ted Sarandos, is the recipient of the letter. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) also signed the letter. Increasingly, government officials have been focused on censorship and tragedies occurring in China. Many state officials have even called for the NBA to cut business ties with China.

Senators asking a streaming giant, however, to not make a series based on an author supporting the Chinese government sounds eerily similar to censorship. Here’s the full letter, which Netflix’s CEO and representatives have yet to respond to: 

Part I of Letter

Dear Mr. Sarandos:

We write today with questions regarding a decision by Netflix to adapt and promote “The Three-Body Problem” by Mr. Liu Cixin as a live-action series on your network.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is committing atrocities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), also known as East Turkistan to locals, including mass imprisonment, forced labor, thought transformation in order to denounce religion and culture, involuntary medical testing, and forced sterilization and abortion. These crimes are committed systemically and at a scale which may warrant a distinction of genocide. Sadly, a number of U.S. companies continue to either actively or tacitly allow the normalization of, or apologism for, these crimes. The decision to produce an adaptation of Mr. Liu’s work can be viewed as such normalization.

In an interview with the New Yorker last summer, when asked about the ongoing atrocities in XUAR, Mr. Liu parroted CCP talking points accusing all Uyghurs of being terrorists, then stating, “If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty…If you were to loosen up the country a bit, the consequences would be terrifying.” When the interviewer draws similarities to Mr. Liu’s trilogy, in which Australia’s population is enslaved and find that they prefer totalitarianism to democracy, Liu implies that she has been brainwashed by the West and that she, “with [her] inflexible sense of morality, was the alien.”

While Congress seriously considers the systemic crimes carried out against the Uyghurs, we have significant concerns with Netflix’s decision to do business with an individual who is parroting dangerous CCP propaganda. In the face of such atrocities in XUAR, there no longer exist corporate decisions of complacency, only complicity.

Part II of Letter

In light of these concerns, we respectfully request answers to the following questions:

1. Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?

2. Were Netflix senior executives aware of the statements made by Mr. Liu Cixin regarding the CCP’s genocidal acts prior to entering into an agreement to adapt his work? If so, please outline the reasoning that led Netflix to move forward with this project. If not, please describe Netflix’s standard process of due diligence and the gaps therein that led to this oversight.

3. Does Netflix have a policy regarding entering into contracts with public-facing individuals who, either publically or privately, promote principles inconsistent with Netflix’s company culture and principles? If so, please outline this policy. If not, please explain why not.

4. In order to avoid any further glorification of the CCP’s actions against the Uyghurs, or validation of the Chinese regime and agencies responsible for such acts, what steps will Netflix take to cast a critical eye on this project – to include the company’s broader relationship with Mr. Liu?

Netflix’s company culture statement asserts that “Entertainment, like friendship, is a fundamental human need; it changes how we feel and gives us common ground.” This statement is a beautiful summary of the value of the American entertainment industry, which possesses innovation largely unmatched in the global market. We ask Netflix to seriously reconsider the implications of providing a platform to Mr. Liu in producing this project.

We appreciate your swift and detailed response to these inquiries.

Jack Giroux is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is an entertainment journalist who's previously written for Thrillist, Slash Film, Film School Rejects, and The Film Stage.

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