How Does a Disney Movie Become Political?

Author: Alifa

Remake of the classic 1998 film, Mulan, is one of the most highly anticipated film set to premiere in 2020. The film brought up many conversation topics on social media for having an all Asian cast, the new direction Disney is taking for this remake compared to the original, and most surprisingly, the Hong Kong protests[1]. The Hong Kong demonstrations itself began in March 2019 when Carrie Lam, Hong Kong Chief Executive, proposed a bill that would allow the extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to mainland China. Since the proposition of the bill, protests have erupted in Hong Kong. The protests started peacefully but continued to become increasingly violent due to clashes with police forces and usage of tear gas, batons, and pepper spray from the law enforcement’s side[2].

Controversy started surrounding the film when the lead actress casted as Mulan, Liu Yifei, reposted an image that reads the quote, “I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now.” The reposted image was followed by Liu’s own remarks expressing her support for the Hong Kong police. Her post received positive responses in Weibo, a popular social media platform in China but extremely negative responses in other social media platforms banned in China, especially Twitter[3]. The hashtag #BoycottMulan started trending shortly after her post became viral.

There are two reasons why her comment gained such severe reactions from the public. First, Liu Yifei is a Chinese born actress who then became a naturalized American citizen[4]. Many viewed her comment as coming from a place of privilege and tone deaf. As an American citizen, Liu does not face the oppression that the Hong Kong citizens are facing. While she enjoys freedom, she looks down upon those who are risking their life fighting for their own rights and democracy. Hong Kong protestors face excessive use of violence and abuse of power from the Hong Kong police during the demonstrations, violence which have been condemned by large institutions such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch[5]. People of Hong Kong rightfully took offense of what Liu said and started to call for the film’s boycott.

Second, Mulan is also one of the most popular legend originating from China. Its values represent the nation and the people, not only those in mainland, but also in Hong Kong. The legend tells the story of fighting back against oppression and doing what is right. Having the lead actress publicly showing support towards the Hong Kong police in the demonstrations unsurprisingly felt like a slap on the face to the citizens of Hong Kong. To the Hong Kong citizens and many others supporting the protest, her support for the Hong Kong police meant she supported the brutality and excessive use of violence committed by the law enforcements.

Her portrayal of Mulan could have been the voice of justice for the people experiencing cruelty in Hong Kong. Instead, Liu’s remark was seen as a betrayal towards the character she depicts in the film which resulted in the hashtag calling to boycott the film to trend on Twitter. Portraying a character as influential and popular as Mulan comes with certain responsibilities. Her comments aren’t just comments. She has a platform and a large following who listens to what she has to say, especially when it comes to delicate political issues like the Hong Kong demonstrations. Her words have impact. And yet, she chose to use that platform to support an institution displaying brute use of force.

References:

[1] “Liu Yifei: Mulan Boycott Urged after Star Backs HK Police,” BBC News (BBC, August 16, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49373276)

[2] Daniel Victor, “Why Are People Protesting in Hong Kong?,” The New York Times (The New York Times, November 13, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/13/world/asia/hong-kong-protests.html)

[3] Jessie Yeung, “Hong Kong Protesters Call for ‘Mulan’ Boycott,” CNN (Cable News Network, August 16, 2019), https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/16/asia/china-mulan-actor-protests-intl-hnk-trnd/index.html)

[4] “Liu Yifei: Mulan Boycott Urged after Star Backs HK Police,” BBC News (BBC, August 16, 2019), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49373276)

[5] Daniel Victor, “Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Erupt After Star Voices Support for Hong Kong Police,” The New York Times (The New York Times, August 16, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/16/world/asia/boycott-mulan.html)

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