Disney‘s live-action remake of Mulan has finally released, but many people won't be watching. Pro-democracy activists across several Asian countries are calling for a boycott of the film.
Mulan star Liu Yifei sparked controversy over the film last year when she expressed support for Hong Kong police, who have been accused of using excessive force and violence to quell anti-government protests. In August 2019, the actress reportedly posted a message on the Chinese social media site Weibo, which translated as: “I also support Hong Kong police. You can beat me up now.” Adding, “What a shame for Hong Kong.”
Now, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are reigniting calls to boycott the film, and they've been joined by activists in Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea.
On Friday, prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong tweeted, "This film is released today. But because Disney kowtows to Beijing, and because Liu Yifei openly and proudly endorses police brutality in Hong Kong, I urge everyone who believes in human rights to #BoycottMulan."
Wong's claim that Disney "kowtows to Beijing" echoes comments made by the US attorney general William Barr last month. He criticized Disney and other Hollywood studios, which "bow to Beijing," censoring films by tweaking scripts and character nationalities in order to ensure distribution in China, which is now the second-biggest movie market in the world.
Mulan is especially crucial for the studio, as it marks the first big-budget release following the Coronavirus pandemic, which hit Hollywood with a $20 billion loss this year. The film is out now on Disney+ in the US and is set to hit theaters abroad soon. International audiences, particularly in China, are a key part of the film's theatrical strategy. Given that Chinese returns can make or break a movie, Disney has remained silent on the anti-democracy criticisms leveraged against the film.
Ironically, the film, which tells the story of a fearless young heroine who fights for her country, has been used as a protest symbol by the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. However, activists are urging viewers to set aside the purported on-screen valiance and instead take a stance against the real-life authoritarianism it symbolizes.
As Thai student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal put it, "#boycottMulan #banMulan to make Disney and the Chinese government know that state violence against the people is unacceptable."