Analysis: #BoycottMulan in support of Hong Kong protests tests Disney and moviegoers

Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Cargill's response expresses a real problem that a number of major Western acts have faced. Bjork, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga and Maroon 5 are among the performers banned in China for meeting with the Dalai Lama or supporting Tibetan independence.

Calls to Disney for an official statement went unanswered at the time of this writing.

Asian and Asian American representation on screen has long been a battleground, with major gains in recent years. "Crazy Rich Asians" is the first all Asian American-cast film to break $100 million domestically ($238.5 million worldwide). And Asian men have been showing up in unprecedented numbers as love interests in American films. Even the world-dominating Marvel Cinematic Universe, after years of whitewashing controversies in which Asian characters were recast with white actors, as in "Doctor Strange," is poised to topline a franchise with an Asian actor for the first time ("Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"). To support the boycotting of a Disney blockbuster that retells a Chinese legend, remakes a beloved animated film and stars an Asian cast with an Asian female lead, is a double-edged sword.

For the performers themselves, speaking out against the mainland government can prove devastating to careers. Those voicing views in opposition to Beijing's policies often face the erasure of their presence in a market of nearly 1.4 billion people. Chinese artists routinely speak in support of the government, under perceived pressure to do so. Entertainers such as Hong Kong actress Charmaine Sheh and 16-year-old Taiwanese singer Chou Tzu-yu have publicly atoned for dissident words and actions, often with apologies such as Chou's "There is only one China."

Others, such as iconic actor Chow Yun-Fat, have taken pro-democracy stands anyway. Singer Denise Ho supported pro-democracy protests in 2014 (the "Umbrella Movement"), joining in the protests herself, and has been blacklisted in China. She has continued her activism anyway, telling the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last week that "China is preventing our democracy at all costs."

Other major stars in "Mulan," such as Gong Li and martial-arts icons Jet Li and Donnie Yen, have remained silent on the protests.


When martial-arts legend Jackie Chan made statements calling the events "sad and depressing," hoping Hong Kong could "return to peace soon," but also saying he wanted to "express the most basic principles of patriotism as a Hong Kong citizen and a Chinese. I am a national flag guard," he sparked a sharp response from pro-democracy advocates.

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