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Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, the Chinese-language film industry’s closest equivalent to the Oscars, was plunged into crisis Wednesday after Beijing film authorities ordered mainland Chinese film directors and stars to boycott the event in November.
Beijing’s move to kneecap the Taiwanese awards show is being interpreted as retaliation for the event’s 2018 ceremony, where a local filmmaker made a politically charged acceptance speech in support of Taiwanese independence.
The incident sparked a firestorm of criticism on mainland Chinese social media, as well as forceful statements of support from the Taiwanese government and local film industry figures. In the aftermath, many worried whether the spat had endangered the future viability of the Taipei-based awards show, which has been bringing the greater Chinese filmmaking community together for a night of celebration since 1962.
In recent years, mainland Chinese talent have played a dominant role at the Golden Horse Awards. Last year, every nominee in the best director category was mainland Chinese, with the prize going to Zhang Yimou for his martial arts period drama Shadow, which claimed three additional trophies. And Chinese director Hu Bo’s drama An Elephant Sitting Still won for best film, while Chinese star Xu Zheng won best actor for his performance in mainland hit Dying to Survive.
“The China Film Administration has suspended mainland films and personnel from participating in the 56th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards in 2019,” read a short statement that went out across Chinese state media on Wednesday. In addition to the awards show, the Taipei event also runs a well-respected citywide film festival bringing together the year’s finest Chinese-language cinema, along with other international film programming.
The current imbroglio began when 36-year-old Taiwanese director Fu Yue took the stage to accept the prize for best documentary last year, saying: “I really hope that, one day, our country can be treated as a truly independent entity. This is my greatest wish as a Taiwanese person.”
?Tensions between Mainland China and Taiwan have only become more fraught since last year’s event, with Beijing suspending individual travel permits for Chinese travelers to Taiwan last week. The Golden Horse ban also comes amid a radical fighting of control over the Chinese film industry, which has resulted in more than half a dozen major Chinese movies getting blocked from cinemas over censorship issues, exacerbating an already bad box-office year in the country.
Many citizens of democratic and self-governed Taiwan hold passionate convictions about the territory’s independence, whereas Beijing views the island as a renegade province that ultimately belongs to mainland China.
Fu’s award-winning 2018 film Our Youth in Taiwan, follows the student leaders of Taipei’s Sunflower Movement in 2014, when local youth occupied Taiwan’s legislative assembly to protest a trade deal with mainland China.
Her speech was met with raucous applause from some portions of the audience, and arms-crossed glowers from several prominent Mainland Chinese film professionals. Chinese-born Singaporean actress Gong Li, who was serving as a Golden Horse jury member, later refused to take the stage alongside Ang Lee to present the award for best feature film — a move many viewed as an act of protest.
Chinese star Tu Men, who won the 2017 Golden Horse award for best actor, then added fuel to the flames by parroting Communist Party talking points as he took the stage as a presenter, saying that everyone in attendance was “one big family on both sides of the strait,” and that he was honored to be there in “Taiwan, China.”
Following the show, Ang Lee, Taiwan’s most revered working director and a regulator advocate for the Golden Horse Awards, expressed resignation about the politicized nature of the night’s proceedings but emphasized that free speech reigned in Taiwan. “Taiwan is free and the film festival is open,” he said. “You can say whatever you want to say.”
“I just hope that no one will come and interfere,” he added, “and that the Golden Horse Awards will be very pure.”
This year’s Golden Horse Awards are being held the same day — Nov. 23 — as mainland China’s Golden Rooster Awards, an event with less international prestige but the full support of China’s ruling Communist Party. Mainland stars thus will be expected to tow the party line and walk the red carpet in China’s coastal city of Xiamen, where the Golden Rooster awards are to be held.
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