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How the Hong Kong protests created the #BoycottMulan campaign

Months away from release, Disney’s live-action Mulan is facing political backlash.

Liu Yifei in traditional Chinese dress in Disney’s 2020 Mulan. Walt Disney Pictures

Disney’s upcoming live-action version of its animated 1998 film Mulan is still months away from its March 2020 release. And as has often been the case with the studio’s live-action remakes, the project has not been without some backlash since it was announced — including because the live-action version will apparently swap the musical heart of the original for something more action-oriented. So far, however, Mulan has weathered most criticisms fairly well, continuing in its production without giving anyone too much reason to complain.

But amid the ongoing political unrest in Hong Kong, 2020’s Mulan is also now a target of protesters there — for reasons that have little to do with the movie. Instead, it’s Mulan’s Chinese American star Liu Yifei’s public support for the controversial Hong Kong police force that has instigated a growing call to #BoycottMulan entirely.

On August 15, Liu reportedly reblogged a political post to her page on Weibo, a popular Twitter-like social media platform in Hong Kong and China. “I support Hong Kong’s police, you can beat me up now,” the image reads, according to a translation from the Hollywood Reporter. “What a shame for Hong Kong.” Liu then included the hashtag #IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice.

This pro-police stance is wildly at odds with the views of the tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who have been demonstrating in the streets for months and clashed with police numerous times.

The quasi-independent city-state has been engulfed in political furor all summer, sparked by a proposed extradition bill that, if ratified, would make it legal to extradite Hong Kong nationals facing criminal charges to stand trial in other countries, including China.

Critics of the bill saw it as part of a broader attempt by the Chinese government in Beijing to chip away at Hong Kong’s hard-won jurisdictional independence, a battle the country has fought with mainland China since 1997.

Hong Kong citizens have been publicly protesting the bill and their government since late March, with demonstrations and rallies attracting masses. These protests became violent in mid-June, when police responded to a relatively peaceful, if large, lunchtime protest by deploying tear gas and shooting rubber bullets into the crowd. Hundreds of demonstrators were injured, inspiring a new objective for the already incensed citizens: ending police brutality.

Unsurprisingly, a celebrity like Liu emphatically supporting the police has not been well-received by the public, in Hong Kong or in the US. According to the Hollywood Reporter, some Hong Kong protesters quickly mobilized on a local, Reddit-like forum where numerous citizens against the extradition bill have been known to gather, and encouraged members to boycott Liu in response to her Weibo post. Their efforts have made the jump to American social media in the form of the hashtag #BoycottMulan, targeting not only Mulan’s lead actress but Disney and the movie as well.

Among the many tweets on the topic are some that contain graphic images of the June protest, and others admonishing anyone who would still support Liu or buy a ticket to Mulan after seeing them.

Other tweets have more casually mocked the film, using the trending hashtag as an opportunity to bash Disney’s contemporary remake strategy and its oft-disappointing yield.

Perhaps it seems an odd choice to speak out against a media conglomerate as walled as Disney. But Hong Kong is in a unique position: Its proximity to the Chinese box office means that a local boycott against the film and studio, should it garner wide support, may be a cause for concern. China accounts for a huge portion of international box office grosses — the caveat being it only screens about 34 Hollywood movies a year, so that it can promote the output of its own film industry instead. It’s in Hollywood’s best interest to mold its big-budget projects into something that will appeal not only to Western audiences but to pricklier Chinese crowds too.

Neither Disney nor Liu has yet responded to the backlash. But Twitter continues to buzz about how supporting the Hong Kong police force is tantamount to vouching for violence, therefore casting Liu as an “enemy of freedom.” Additionally, because Liu is a naturalized American citizen, many people have expressed outrage over the comfortable position from which she can comment on political issues without risk.

Most striking to the Disney fans who have joined the social media conversation, however, is that Liu’s post suggests she’s the furthest thing from the character she plays. In the original film, Mulan is a radical hero, deeply devoted to the people of her country. Now that Liu has revealed her stance on the Hong Kong protests, the fact that it doesn’t seem to align with the character of Mulan is difficult for many fans to take.