Paramount's 'Arrival' Gaffe Ignites Outrage in Hong Kong

As political slip-ups go, accidentally wading into the issue of Hong Kong independence is about as bad as it gets.
Paramount
The new 'Arrival' poster showing Shanghai (left) vs. the original poster set in Hong Kong (right)

Promotional materials for Paramount Pictures' forthcoming sci-fi flick Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, are generating attention in China for all the wrong reasons.

One of the 12 teaser posters released for the film earlier this week features an orb-like alien spaceship hovering over Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor. But the spacecraft isn't the only object out of place in the picture — Shanghai's iconic Oriental Pearl Tower has been Photoshopped into the foreground as if it were part of the Hong Kong skyline.

The gaffe almost immediately struck a nerve in politically divided Hong Kong, where a vocal portion of the population is concerned about Beijing's encroaching control of local media, politics and civic life. The film's Facebook page has been flooded with angry and sarcastic comments with the hashtag #HongKongIsNotChina.

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 after a century and a half of British colonial rule. Under the conditions of its return, Hong Kong operates as a Special Administrative Region of China, governed under its own political framework and legal systems, which provide greater freedom of speech and assembly. But many Hong Kong residents, who have a strong sense of regional identity, worry that these freedoms have begun to erode under the encroachment of mainland Chinese money and political interference. Such sentiments spilled over during the Occupy Central street protests in 2014.

"Please don't mix up Shanghai and Hong Kong," wrote Facebook user Steven Hin on the Arrival page, adding: "They are totally different [and] it's very offensive to a lot of people from Hong Kong."

"Hong Kongers are now feeling insulted and offended," posted Derek Ng, adding the hashtags #ApologizeToHK #HongKongIsNotChina #BoycottArrivalMovie

Paramount soon deleted the offending poster and offered the following statement on Twitter and Facebook: "An error was made in an 'Arrival' poster by a 3rd party vendor. It's been corrected and we are disappointed we didn't catch the error."

The statement did little to tamp down the outrage among Hong Kong observers, however, as many noted that it did not actually contain an apology and some speculated that the studio had stopped short of saying sorry for fear of offending the powers that be in the far larger market of Mainland China.

"That is a lame excuse, not even a word of 'sorry'," said Larry Ngan on Facebook.

A replacement poster created by the studio only added to the umbrage. Paramount swapped the poster featuring Hong Kong's harbor for a new one showing Shanghai.

As sensitive as Hong Kong is to indications of Mainland incursion, Beijing is even more charged to any suggestion of Hong Kong independence. An editorial in China's official state media outlet Xinhua recently described any such campaign as a "blatant denial of history with no legal basis," adding that it would "jeopardize the fundamental interests of the country and the region."

"Thank you for making it clear that the renminbi (mainland China's currency) is more important," wrote Facebook user Celine Ying. "Stay away from HK with your movie," she added.

Arrival is set for release in North America on Nov. 11. It does not yet have an opening date in Hong Kong or Mainland China.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the film stars Adams as a linguist who is recruited by the military to determine whether alien spacecraft that have landed around the world come in peace or malice.

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