At Disney’s D23 Expo in Anaheim on August 24th, which featured actors and directors from the studio’s upcoming movies such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Pixar’s Soul, it seemed all were in attendance but one: the star of Mulan. Only director Niki Caro made an appearance, which is hardly surprising given the recent controversy involving Liu Yifei.
Actress Crystal Liu Yifei, who plays Mulan in the Mulan live-action remake set to be released next March, has received waves of criticism after publicly taking a stance against Hong Kong’s massive protests and supporting Hong Kong’s police. Liu shared a quote from People’s Daily, the largest newspaper group on China, with her 65.6 million followers on Weibo: “I support Hong Kong police. You can beat me up now.”
This is an allusion to another statement made by a reporter for People’s Daily (affiliated with Global Times), who was physically assailed by a mob of anti-government protesters at the Hong Kong airport because they suspected him of being a Chinese secret agent. Yifei added, in English, “What a shame for Hong Kong” and the hashtag in Chinese #IalsosupportHongKongPolice.
In response, #BoycottMulan was launched, which was featured in more than 21,000 posts, while Yifei’s name was mentioned in more than 16,000 posts. While many Chinese celebrities have voiced similar opinions on the Hong Kong protests, Liu’s words especially have captured the attention of the public since she’s playing the lead role in an anticipated Hollywood production.
Yifei’s polarizing statement has begun to alienate those hyped for Mulan, since her unpopular perspective seems to directly contradict the overarching message of the movie, which calls for bravery in the face of oppression and injustice. Not only has the Hong Kong police been widely publicized as overly violent and excessive, people are rebuking Yifei for being anti-democratic, considering she is a naturalized American citizen.
#BoycottMulan is trending, b/c Liu Yifei, the star of Mulan, is supporting the police vs HK protesters. In other words, she supports police brutality & China's authoritarianism.
How out of touch is Yifei?
Hasn't she learned anything from playing the part of a feminist-activist?
— Francis Baraan IV (@MrFrankBaraan) August 16, 2019
#BoycottMulan how tone deaf do you have to be to support police brutality when you just filmed a character who is supposed to stand against oppression in its raw form? Pound sand. pic.twitter.com/Ug8pfh3JPN
— Tom S. Foolery (@foolery_s) August 16, 2019
However, speculations are running amok that China is actually using Liu Yifei’s celebrity status as a conduit to push their own agenda and demonize the Hong Kong protestors. While both Twitter and Facebook have announced their plans to halt the spread of China’s “misinformation campaign” about the anti-government demonstrators, China’s government-controlled media ardently showcased their support for Liu Yifei after her controversial statement.
To refute #BoycottMulan, news outlets in China backed the #SupportMulan movement. “The vicious attack on Liu Yifei and the mindless call to boycott the ‘Mulan’ remake is nothing short of an attempt to silence certain voices and to drag Hong Kong into an abyss,” People’s Daily wrote. People are also citing Yifei’s patriotism for her country, and that she should have the liberty to express that love despite how inflammatory her views are to others. They assert that supporting the Hong Kong protestors would have been even more suspicious and place her on even rockier shores, given that she was born in China and has a closer connection to it.
She loves China.
She loves HK.
She supports the police because she supports peace.
You support riots and thugs.
You are the ones who support evil!!!#liuyifei#Mulan#BoycottMulan pic.twitter.com/3OBngQZf5V
— refugio (@rtomaibv) August 16, 2019
#SupportMulan Some Chinese-Americans love their
homeland, while some Chinese(like rebels) have another heart of selling their motherland. Mulan is the character of China, Mulan must be deduced by an actress who love China!
— Ava (@longagocy) August 17, 2019
Additionally, Yifei has, unwittingly, become idolized by the “Chinese nationalist trolls” Twitter and Facebook are attempting to shut down. Variety assessed Twitter and identified a horde of possibly state-backed bots all operating under the hashtag #SupportMulan. These accounts mimic the propagandistic terminology of China’s campaign and promote distorted information. They even use images to juxtapose the angelic beauty of Liu Yifei against the pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong, which is decried as foolish and useless.
So far, Disney has not made any public announcement on this situation. Accurately gauging people’s outrage, Chinese newspaper Global Times anticipated the dilemma and warned that Disney “simply cannot afford the consequence of disrespecting Chinese people’s feelings,” and that if Yifei is removed, Disney “will lose a potential 1.4 billion Chinese audience.” Overall, by weighing in on the unrest in Hong Kong, which has reached its third month and has received massive global attention, both Yifei and Disney are in precarious positions.
Photo Courtesy of Disney