The star of an upcoming Disney blockbuster has ignited a fight that few could have wanted.
Liu Yifei, the lead in Disney's upcoming "Mulan" live-action remake, used social media to take the side of Hong Kong police in the midst of pro-democracy protests that have sparked accusations of police brutality.
Unrest escalated after a June 9 march, with participants estimated over 1 million, in response to a proposed law that would have given mainland China more power over Hong Kong residents. Amnesty International and other groups have released statements condemning the official use of force: "In the footage Amnesty has verified, police officers appear out of control, placing peaceful protesters who posed no threat in danger of serious injury."
The Chinese American Liu (aka Crystal Liu) posted her support for the Hong Kong police on the Chinese site Weibo on Thursday. She began by sharing an image from the state-run People's Daily, repeating the now-viral words of Fu Guohao, a reporter for the Communist Party-run Global Times. In the viral video, Fu is accosted by antigovernment protesters: "I support the Hong Kong police. You can beat me up now."
Liu added another post, in which she ended all doubt of her position: "I also support the Hong Kong police," buttressed by emojis such as hearts and flexing arms.
By 2 p.m. Eastern Friday, there were more than 65,000 tweets hashtagged "#BoycottMulan."
For those embroiled in the actual struggle in Hong Kong, the stakes couldn't be higher, sometimes coming down to life and death. For those on the cinematic side, there's a lot on the table as well.
Disney's live-action remakes have been wildly successful, with four topping the $1-billion mark in grosses, despite mostly unenthusiastic reviews, and another, "The Jungle Book," just below $1 billion and earning widespread acclaim. "Mulan" is reported to have a budget in the $300-million range. It couldn't be a shareholder's dream to see #BoycottMulan and calls to recast its lead -- a Chinese superstar -- trending.
Recasting Liu seems unlikely; the film wrapped production in November 2018. That leaves Disney in a dicey situation, considering its courting of the Chinese market, where its films have grossed billions. Eight Disney movies have earned more than 1.18 billion yuan ($168 million) each, placing them among the country's top 50 all-time grossers. Their aggregate box-office total in China is in excess of $2 billion.
Disney's "Doctor Strange" screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, in defending the change of the Marvel character The Ancient One from a Tibetan man in the comics to a white woman in the film (played by Tilda Swinton), said on the Double Toasted podcast, "If you acknowledge that Tibet is a place, and that he is Tibetan, you risk alienating 1 billion people who think that that's bull and risk the Chinese government going, 'Hey, you know, one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We're not going to show your movie because you decided to get political....' "