Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss are adapting sci-fi story The Three-Body Problem for Netflix, but there are hurdles.
Early this month, we finally learned what David Benioff and Dan Weiss planned as a follow-up to their hit show Game of Thrones: the pair will adapt Liu Cixin’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past, better known as The Three-Body Problem. This internationally successful science fiction series tells the story of Earth’s first contact with an alien civilization, told with a mostly Chinese cast.
To adapt this story, Netflix has assembled an impressive team. True Blood writer Alexander Woo is one of the main three producers along with Benioff and Weiss. Brad Pitt, Rosamund Pike and Rian Johnson are all involved at various levels, whether through their production companies or as producers. Cixin will serve as a consulting producer, as will Ken Liu, who did the English translation.
But things have taken a turn. Earlier this week, a group of Republican Senators — Martha McSally (R., Ariz.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), and Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) — all signed a letter to Netflix chief content officer and co-CEO Ted Sarandos expressing concern about how working with Cixin could contribute to the “normalization” of human rights abuses currently being committed by the Chinese government against the country’s Uighur Muslim minority.
Some background: China’s Uighur Muslims mostly live in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, in the northwestern part of the country. According to current estimates, over one million Uighurs are interred in over 85 identified camps built in the area. At first, China denied the existence of these camps, and when that became impossible, called them “reeducation camps.” As more evidence has come to light, it’s pretty clear they’re internment camps. The Uighurs there are imprisoned for crimes they didn’t commit, barred from practicing their religion, beaten, interrogated and detained. It’s scary, dystopian stuff.
So what does Netflix’s The Three-Body Problem have to do with this? Well, in 2019, author Liu Cixin — who is Chinese — expressed support for the Chinese Communist Party’s subjugation of the Uighur people while speaking to The New Yorker. “Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks?” he asked. “If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.”
That’s the crux of why the Senators are writing to Netflix. “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?” the letter asks. “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.
As of this writing, Netflix has not responded.
It’s not entirely clear what the letter is asking Netflix to do, which is probably by design. Do the Senators simply want the studio to sever ties with Liu Cixin, or do they want the entire project scrapped? What if Cixin made a statement denouncing what the Chinese government is doing to the Uighurs?
Iconically, some parts of The Three-Body Problem are set during China’s turbulent Cultural Revolution, where political purges enacted by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. As a child, Cixin himself was displaced from his home province of Shanxi due to the violence, so you’d think he’d have some empathy for the Uighurs…but I don’t know enough about Chinese culture and history to speak authoritatively on the subject.
Doing nothing is also an option. What do you think Netflix should do?