Political protests and unrest in Hong Kong have engulfed Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Mulan.
Last week, actress Crystal Liu Yifei, who stars in the film, charged into the debate over the clash between Hong Kong police and pro-democracy protesters. “I support Hong Kong’s police, you can all attack me up now,” Liu wrote to her 65 million followers on Weibo, the Twitter-like, Chinese government–sanctioned social media platform. The Chinese-born American actress shared a meme quoting Fu Guohao, a Chinese state journalist Hong Kong protesters bound and beat up, saying “What a shame for Hong Kong,” with #IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice.
Supporters of the Hong Kong democracy movement quickly started a #BoycottMulan campaign that was trending on Twitter by Friday. The movie is not set to release until March 2020. Some protesters have indicated they might stage a sit-in at the Hong Kong Disneyland as early as this weekend.
Meanwhile, official Chinese news outlets publicly praised Liu, promoting a separate #SupportMulan campaign and slogans like “Defend justice, support Mulan.” On Monday, Twitter and Facebook announced they had deleted 200,000 fake social media accounts from their platforms, including hundreds associated with the Mulan boycott, to combat what they called a Chinese government–backed misinformation campaign to discredit the Hong Kong protests.
Since June, millions of Hong Kong residents have protested Beijing’s encroachment on the territory’s semiautonomous status. The protests began in response to a bill that would have made it easier to expedite criminal suspects to mainland China, but demonstrations only intensified after the government cracked down and police used force against the young protesters.
Now Mulan, a movie about a Chinese warrior fighting injustice, is becoming a mascot for the world’s biggest communist regime. Disney, so far, has remained silent about the controversy. Siding with Hong Kong’s protesters would jeopardize its growing stake in China’s entertainment industry, which accounted for 22 percent of the studio’s $2.8 billion in worldwide ticket sales for the recent box-office hit Avengers: Endgame.
“Disney can’t support the protesters because their business in China is too important,” Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in the Chinese entertainment industry, told The Hollywood Reporter. “But they obviously can’t be seen as pandering too much to China either … that could backfire as well, depending on how the situation in Hong Kong unfolds.”
Indeed, the Beijing-aligned Global Times warned Disney it “simply cannot afford the consequence of disrespecting Chinese people’s feelings,” and if the studio removes Liu from Mulan, it “will lose a potential 1.4 billion Chinese audience.”
Liu, a household name in China, joined a handful of celebrities who have recently expressed pro-Beijing and pro-police sentiments, including Hong Kong natives Tony Leung Ka-fai and Jackie Chan and Chinese K-Pop singers Lay Zhang, Jackson Wang, Lai Kuan-lin, and Victoria Song. Chan, a Hong Kong hero, told China state broadcaster CCTV the Hong Kong protests were “heartbreaking and worrying for many” and pledged his support for a social media campaign protecting China’s national flag from desecration.
Those public pronouncements are part of a growing wave of celebrities and companies facing pressure to toe the line politically for mainland China due to its massive lucrative market. Liu and others also represent a surge of patriotism among young Chinese who have been fed pro-communist propaganda.
“If things polarize even further in Hong Kong and China resorts to even greater violence to assert its authority, it will become much harder for [Disney] not to get dragged into it,” Rosen said.