by Joseph Sweeney | staff writer
Disney has recently released their live-action adaptation of Mulan to the Disney+ platform, months after it was planned for release in late March and then delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to this, boycotts had already been called for against the movie due to the sensitive nature of certain statements made by the cast of the movie.
“When the movie was announced, I heard a lot of these positive things, like it was gonna be this positive moment for Asian Americans when this movie came out, especially because Disney was making such a big deal about it,” AP US history teacher Cynthia Dubose said. “And so I was kind of surprised when I saw how the [lead] actress was supporting the police and how people are reacting, because she’s actually from Hong Kong.”
Liu Yifei is a Chinese born actress who hit the mainstream after being cast as Mulan in 2017, though has since come under fire because of her statements made in support of the Chinese police regarding the ongoing Hong Kong protests.
“People are reacting to her statements, saying that she should be supporting the protesters in Hong Kong. With all the laws and changes going on in Hong Kong, she should be resisting that, but she sort of came out in favor of the police,” Dubose said.
Aside from the movie, Yifei has remained out of the public eye since initially sharing an image posted by a CCP-owned newspaper in August of last year. She was also absent from the annual D23 expo just a few weeks later.
Some have theorized the possibility of Yifei acting in favor of family that may live in Communist China, and therefore may be in danger if she were to speak out against the government.
“With communist China, it’s really hard to get a lot of openness about these things, but certainly, people probably acting out of fear, intimidation, of the Chinese government is not out of the question,” Dubose said. “What’s so hard is finding the details and sorting through those details, mostly just because of a lack of transparency of the Chinese government that makes it difficult.”
Protests broke out in Hong Kong in June of last year, due to an extradition bill which attempted to undermine the autonomy of the special administrative region, as it would have potentially subjected fugitive Hongkongers to the laws of mainland China.
“When Hong Kong was transitioning from British rule to communist China’s rule, Hong Kong was kind of promised more lee-way economically,” Dubose said. “And so these people were used to living under British rule and these western ideas about freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and so over time people see that those promises have been eroding, and the restructuring of some of the laws is what has been most concerning.”
Hong Kong was first ceded to the British in 1842 at the end of the first opium war, and remained a royal colony up until 1997, when it was transferred back into Chinese ownership, though it has still held its own autonomy since then.
“If you’re communist China and you’re taking over all of this area that’s economically and viably very important, and you’ve inherited this very wealthy area, you wanna be careful, right? Cause the world is looking,” Dubose said. “And so there’s been this area of time where the world has stopped paying as much attention, though now it is because of these protesters. As a British colony, Hong Kong had flourished, it had become this center of commerce, and so, the Chinese, they have to be careful, cause there’s these powerful, wealthy people and their friends around the world that could possibly because more problems, if China was to rough it up and change things in Hong Kong.”
Since the late 90’s, China has continued to undermine this autonomy, however, such as in 2014 when electoral reform was attempted in the region, leading to a series of sit-in protests by Hongkongers in what is often referred to as the “Umbrella Revolution.”
“The importance of it is just that colonialism has a long-lasting impact. Even though we see colonialism, certainly in the Americas, as dissolving around 1776 to 1800, in other parts of the world it continued, and that economic and cultural domination has a lasting impact,” Dubose said. “These tensions go back, a lot of them economic, a lot of them cultural. And so, the people of Hong Kong kind of find themselves in an odd balance: on one level they enjoy some favor under the British system, which now they seem to be losing: it’s kind of just trading one master for another and seeing which one is gonna be giving them the best deal, and they are not getting the best deal under China’s communist rule.”
Due to the abnormal manner in the way the film was released, it has yet to be seen if the film was a financial success in the way Disney anticipated. In mainland China, however, the film flopped in what has been attributed to piracy as well as Hollywood’s decreased amount of influence in the region.
“The thing is it’s difficult because the type of people with children who would be excited about a Disney movie may not be in tune to something [like this], they might be concerned with something else, like the environment.,” Dubose said. “With the nuances of Hong Kong, I think it’s hard for people to understand this, with this new Disney movie that their kids are gonna wanna see. And so, for Americans, we definitely have a short attention span, and so, I would kind of be surprised if the boycott works, but it all depends on how well you organize and how well you get the message out.”
Some have also criticized the manner of protest regarding the film’s release, wondering how a potential box office sabotage could affect those that worked behind the scenes. The idea of collective punishment in this case has also been called into question.
“I think that everything nowadays is getting politicized, whether it’s the credibility of a vaccine from either political party to not wearing a mask because it’s a ‘political hoax,’ so the fact that people are boycotting a movie made by Disney because of something an actress said or supports seems a little excessive, or at least not thought through,” junior Angie Vasquez said. “Boycott a movie because it’s inappropriate or harmed animals in the process, but don’t punish the hard work of various other actors, directors, composers, and script writers because of one person. If you want to effectively show disapproval towards Liu Yifei and her stance on Chinese government, a fact that came out after the movie was filmed and finished, then there are other ways to do so.”
Mulan is available to watch on the Disney+ platform with a $29.99 premium access pass on top of the $6.99 monthly subscription fee. The film will become viewable normally with no extra fee in December.