There has been some level of controversy attached to each of Disney's live-action remakes, but none has garnered as much of a backlash as Mulan, starring Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu. She became the center of a firestorm earlier last week after expressing support for the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) and its actions in the ongoing protests, sparking the #BoycottMulan campaign.
It began after Liu shared an image on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform that read, in Chinese, "I support the Hong Kong Police, you can hit me now," a phrase that originated from an alleged mainland Chinese journalist held by protesters on suspicion of being an undercover policeman. The slogan was accompanied by a statement in English, "What a shame for Hong Kong."
Liu was one of many Chinese celebrities who endorsed the Communist Party of China (CCP) and, therefore, the HKPF, which in recent weeks has been accused of using excessive violence and employing triads to combat unarmed pro-democracy protesters, actions that have also injured journalists and medical professionals.
While Disney has remained silent on the matter, Liu -- according to some news outlets -- doubled down on her controversial stance by posting once again on Weibo, this time writing (translated), "If you are not like-minded, you can leave." Except that's not entirely true.
The news outlets are correct in that it's something Liu wrote. However, her statement wasn't in response to the backlash to her original post. When a fan asked what the post was about, the actress replied (translated), "work. People come and go." Needless to say, that makes it unlikely the post was intended as a response to criticism from pro-democracy supporters; rather it was related to a disagreement of some kind with someone in Liu's professional life.
Both sides of the escalating conflict in Hong Kong and China are passionate. In situations such as these, it's easy for misinformation to spread, a fact that the CCP is known to use to its advantage. Just recently, almost 1,000 Chinese bots were removed from social media sites for spreading disinformation and creating a false movement to counter #BoycottMulan.
Many pro-democracy supporters have already begun to speculate that Liu and other celebrities might have been compelled by the CCP to publicly take part in expressing patriotism toward China. Whether there is any truth to that is anyone's guess, but it is entirely possible. In the event that Liu ever does make a formal statement, either confirming her stance on Hong Kong or denying it, it is important that those paying attention from the outside do not possess views that have been shaped by a quote taken out of context.
In the eyes of many observers and participants, the situation in Hong Kong has a right side and a wrong one. The Chinese government is responsible for some of the worst violations of human rights in recent decades, ranging from the limitations on freedom of speech on the Chinese people to the imprisonment and sterilization of the Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjiang. Disney's silence has been viewed by some as a passive acceptance of China's actions, as the House of Mouse has worked closely with the government in order to produce a film that has the greatest chance of appealing to Chinese audiences.
It's a market that Disney has shown special interest in, owing to the fact that the Chinese theater market alone is worth roughly $9 billion, a quarter of global box office sales. With such a substantial financial interest in China, it is likely Disney will attempt to remain silent about Mulan until concern fades, as the film's March 2020 release date is still quite some time away.
At this point, it's difficult to say whether #BoycottMulan will ultimately impact the release of the film. Many participants and supporters in the Hong Kong protests have begun to include edited Mulan images and photos as well as the hashtag in their campaign posters, and those supporting the protests from overseas have followed suit. That all but ensures Liu's words are not forgotten, nor the irony of a pro-Beijing actress playing a warrior fighting against a tyrannical Chinese force.
Directed by Niki Caro, Disney's Mulan stars Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Yoson An, Gong Li and Jet Li. The film is scheduled to open on March 27, 2020.