The release of Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan comes at a difficult time for the studio, with the coronavirus epidemic potentially taking its biggest international market, Chinese moveigoers, off the table.
But Mulan is facing more than one viral obstacle to its success. The film is also the target of a #BoycottMulan movement that has taken over Twitter, sparked by star Liu Yifei‘s comments on the ongoing Hong Kong protests last year. As with many films heavily associated with China, it’s about to get political, folks. Here is the #BoycottMulan movement, and its connection to the Hong Kong protests and police brutality, explained.
What Sparked the Hong Kong Protests?
In February 2019, the government of Hong Kong proposed the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill, which would allow the extradition of criminal fugitives to mainland China. This sparked a wave of protests from Hong Kong residents, who saw this as the beginning of the end for the region’s relative autonomy. Since 1997, Hong Kong had enjoyed relative freedom under the “one country, two systems” agreement, which allowed the city a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years — a deal that would end in 2047. Now at the halfway mark, the mainland Chinese government (AKA the People’s Republic of China) had been getting bolder. One such bold action from the mainland government was the Fugitive Offenders bill.
The Fugitive Offenders bill would essentially give the mainland Chinese government greater power over Hong Kong residents — allowing them to extradite supposed “criminals” from Hong Kong to be tried in mainland China, even if it was just a matter of speaking out against censorship laws. These “disappearances” had already been happening for years, but this bill would make it legal in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong protests began in March 2019 and escalated from there. The Hong Kong police were recorded on camera using brutal methods against the protestors, deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. Two students died and an unnamed protestor was shot, intensifying the protests. The protest has since not been resolved in the year since they began.
What Did Liu Yifei Say?
So how did Mulan star Liu Yifei get involved in all of this? The Chinese-born actress spoke out in support for the Hong Kong police in August 2019, amid the allegations of police brutality.
“I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong,” Liu posted on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter.
The backlash was immediate. #BoycottMulan began trending on Twitter — a social media app that has been banned in China. Soon, the hashtag was trending in Hong Kong and the United States, with Twitter users accusing the actress of supporting police brutality. Protestors also criticized her for wading into this conversation when she has no stake in it as an American citizen. “Liu is a naturalized American citizen. It must be nice. Meanwhile she pisses on people fighting for democracy,” one person tweeted.
Liu may be an American citizen, but she works primarily in mainland China, where she carved out a glamorous career, even getting dubbed one of the “New Four Dan actresses of China.” But she, like many Chinese stars, would be in danger of being blacklisted by the government and prevented from working again in the country if they don’t abide by the government’s strict censorship laws. At the same time, Liu’s comments on a social media platform were of her own volition and did not appear to be compelled by her agency or government. It puts into question whether Liu’s support of an authoritarian government is at odds with a Disney film that supposedly champions honor, bravery, and truth.
Where Does Mulan Fall in All of This?
It’s clear that Disney is also carefully navigating its approach to the cultural authenticity of Mulan to appeal to Chinese audiences, and by extension, the strict Chinese censors. The Chinese box office is the biggest international audience, and tantamount to the financial success of Mulan. With a cast that mostly comes from the Chinese movie industry — Liu, Donnie Yen, Gong Li, Jet Li — as opposed to diasporic communities — Asian-New Zealander Yoson An, Asian-American Tzi Ma — it seems that Mulan is going out of its way to make nice with Chinese audiences. (Let’s also not forget that Yen is proudly pro-Beijing and has organized a fund for an anti-Occupy Central organization in 2014.)
And with its themes — of emphasizing the Confucian lessons of duty to one’s country above all else — it begs the question of whether Mulan could be subtly propping up Chinese imperialist propaganda. Those are themes you’d commonly see in films that come out of China, like last year’s big-budget The Wandering Earth, a film that explicitly bolsters a China-led spacefaring future. Or even in the popular Ip Man movies, which see Yen as the martial arts master defeating various Western fighters for China.
So, should you #BoycottMulan? That’s up to you, but this is all important to keep in mind as you watch Liu kicking butt onscreen.
Mulan hits theaters on March 27, 2020.
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