Disney's live-action Mulan remake has a become a surprise flashpoint in Hong Kong's ongoing pro-democracy, anti-police brutality protests, after the film's star, Chinese-American actress Crystal Liu, took to social media to voice her support for the Hong Kong police force.
Liu's statement sparked instant outcry in Hong Kong, where the local police have been accused by international human rights groups of excessive use of force in confrontations with protesters and the public.
Posting to her 65 million followers on Chinese social media platform Weibo, Liu shared an image originally released by the state-backed People's Daily, reading: "I support Hong Kong's police, you can beat me up now," followed by, "What a shame for Hong Kong." Liu added the hashtag "IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice" and a heart emoji. The post received over 72,000 likes and over 65,000 shares in less than 24 hours.
Outside of China, however, the hashtag #BoycottMulan has begun to trend on Twitter and Instagram. One of the most viral tweets, with 3,500 retweets and almost 4,000 likes, came from Twitter user @sdnorton who wrote: "Disney’s Mulan actress, Liu Yifei, supports police brutality and oppression in Hong Kong. Liu is a naturalized American citizen. it must be nice. meanwhile she pisses on people fighting for democracy. retweet please. HK doesn’t get enough support. #BoycottMulan @Disney."
Comments on Liu's Instagram have similarly condemned her "support for police brutality" as well as the “[suppression] of democracy and freedom,” which “violates the character of Mulan,” and likewise called for a boycott of the film. There have also been comments attacking Liu for her views on the official Mulan Instagram and Facebook accounts.
The boycott was initiated by users of Lihkg, a Reddit-style online discussion forum in Hong Kong that has somewhat served as information central for the leader-less protest movement, wielding notable mobilization capability and members/readers across all ages and walks of life — including local police monitoring the posts to gather intelligence. Members of the Lihkg community have organized local protests and demonstrations and launched GoFundMe operations for overseas promotions of the movement that have raised millions.
While the Hong Kong box office is tiny compared with the mammoth Chinese one, the world’s second largest, the boycott's organizers appear to be hoping for international support for their campaign, calling for worldwide filmgoers “who support freedom and democracy” to join in.
The boycotters’ complaints were not only directed at Liu, but also at Disney. Some users of Lihkg expressed their dismay with the entertainment conglomerate for hiring someone who they believed "condones violence" and "suppresses people who are fighting for democracy and freedom but curries favor from powerful authorities," writing that “the image of Disney will be tarnished” and “Disney, you can do better."
Others also promised to boycott Disneyland, but did not specify which location. Hong Kong Disneyland has taken an attendance hit since the protests began — but that's mostly been due to the drop in the number of mainland Chinese tourists in the city.
An American citizen, Liu was born in China and moved to the U.S. at the age of 10. After staying there for five years, she became a U.S. citizen but returned to China and built a career in Chinese TV and films, including the Chinese-American co-production The Forbidden Kingdom, starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li. She is no stranger to politically motivated popular Chinese online campaigns, having posted on Weibo in 2016 and 2018 her opinions about China's contested territory claims in the South China Sea and for the “One China” policy, writing that "not one inch should be yielded." Mulan is her first leading role in a Hollywood production.
The Hong Kong protests, now running nearly 11 weeks, reached a new fever pitch on Monday and Tuesday after thousands of activists occupied the Hong Kong Airport, causing all flights to be grounded for two days.
The protests began in response to a bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents charged with a crime to be extradited to mainland China, where the courts operate with little political impartiality. Nearly two million Hong Kong residents took to the streets to contest the bill at the height of the protest in June, believing it would mark the end of the autonomy Hong Kong was promised when the territory was handed back to China from Britain in 1997, under the "one country, two systems" model.
The Hong Kong police have responded to the protests with escalating brutality, firing tear gas inside subway stations and firing rubber bullets directly at crowds. The United Nations Human Rights Council said on Tuesday that the Hong Kong police force has been using “less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards” and urged an investigation.
The protesters have since shifted their demands, calling for an independent investigation into police brutality and universal suffrage for the election of the city's chief executive, with many among the movement saying they are now fighting for outright democracy in Hong Kong.
The hashtag “I Support Hong Kong Police” became popular on China’s Weibo on Wednesday, after a Chinese national, allegedly an undercover reporter of Chinese state media outlet Global Times, was detained and roughed up by a group of angry protesters during the demonstration in the Hong Kong International Airport the previous day. His words to the protesters, as he was pulled away by members of the Hong Kong police, reportedly were, “I support the Hong Kong police, you can beat me up now.” Beijing's The People’s Daily turned the statement into a meme, which gained traction on local social media.