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Netflix distances itself from writer backing Chinese detention camps, but keeps him on as producer

Liu Cixin has defended the mass imprisonment and re-education of ethnic minorities in China.

Updated: October 2, 2020 - 11:19pm

Netflix continues to credit Chinese writer Liu Cixin as a producer on an adaptation of one of his books, even as the streaming giant took the recent step of publicly denouncing Liu's remarks in favor of the mass detention of China's Uyghur minorities. 

Netflix is currently adapting one of Liu's novels, "The Three-Body Problem," into a series for its streaming service. The story involves a looming invasion of Earth by extraterrestrials from a nearby star system. 

The adaptation of the novel recently garnered criticism from multiple U.S. senators due to Liu's public defense of China's mass imprisonment of Muslim Uyghurs. By some estimates, as many as three million Uyghurs have been sent to state-run reeducation camps in that country.

In an interview last year with the New Yorker, Liu defended that policy. "Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks?" he said of the imprisoned Uyghurs. "If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty."

In a letter last month, numerous U.S. senators including Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Rick Scott, wrote a letter to Netflix asking the company to explain its decision to move forward with the adaptation, including whether or not it had been aware of Liu's views beforehand and whether or not the company agrees that the Chinese Communist Party's imprisonment of "1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?" 

In a response, Netflix Vice President of Global Public Policy Dean Garfield said the company "absolutely" agrees that China's Uyghur policy is "unacceptable." In that letter, Garfield said the company "do[es] not agree with his comments, which are entirely unrelated to his book or this Netflix show." 

In three separate instances in the letter, Garfield pointedly distances Netflix from Liu, saying the writer "is the author of the books, not the creator of this Netflix series."

Liu still apparently on board as a producer

Though Garfield took pains to place Liu at a distance from both Netflix and its upcoming adaptation of his work, the company still appears to employ him in at least some capacity in connection with the show. 

As of Thursday, the IMDbPRO listing for "The Three-Body Problem" identifies Liu as a "consulting producer" for the show. Similarly, a Netflix press release from Sept. 1 announced that Liu would be assisting the production in that role, stating that he would "help ensure that the spirit of the books remains intact."

Netflix did not respond to multiple queries seeking more information about the terms of its collaboration with Liu and the extent of his contributions to the series. 

Christian Toto, the editor of and a contributor to Just the News, said a "consulting producer" credit can apply to a range of roles. 

"At times, it can be an informal gesture," he said. "It also can be more significant, with the person playing a credible role in the production."

Toto said Netflix's apparent willingness to continue working with Liu contrasts notably with several other media dust-ups and scandals. 

"Hollywood will excommunicate talent for the most minor of offenses," he said. "[Such as] Kevin Hart's ugly gay jokes from a decade ago, for example. J.K. Rowling stepping a toe outside the LGBT community's blueprint. Or one God-awful tweet from Roseanne and she's essentially done, career-wise."

"Yet [Liu's] comments were greeted with a shrug," he added. 

In his 2019 interview with the New Yorker, Liu preemptively dismissed any democracy-centered objections to China's Uyghur internment policy. 

That is "not what Chinese people care about," he said. "For ordinary folks, it's the cost of health care, real-estate prices, their children's education. Not democracy."

The Uyghur Human Rights Project claims that Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang region are subject to "a pattern of abuse including political imprisonment, torture, and disappearances."

"With only a few extremely rare exceptions," the project states, "Uyghurs continue to be the only population in China consistently subjected to executions for political and religious offenses. Mosques are summarily closed and the Uyghur language is banned from use in schools. Uyghurs are subjected to compulsory unpaid labor on infrastructures, such as oil or gas lines to transfer East Turkistan's resources to mainland China."

The Trump administration last month announced bans on Chinese goods produced by Uyghurs in what acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli called "a type of modern slavery." 

Disney last month, meanwhile, was criticized for having filmed portions of its live-action movie "Mulan" in the Xinjiang region in which the Uyghur detention camps are located. 

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