On Friday 4 August, Disney released its live-action remake of the animated classic Mulan on its streaming platform Disney Plus. While the entertainment giant has been heavily promoting the release, many pro-democracy supporters in East Asia got #BoycottMulan trending at the same time.
In August 2019, the main lead, Chinese actress Liu Yifei, came under fire for publicly supporting the Hong Kong police amidst their brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. Calls for boycotting the film arose at the time, and have been renewed with the release of the film:
This film is released today. But because Disney kowtows to Beijing, and because Liu Yifei openly and proudly endorses police brutality in Hong Kong, I urge everyone who believes in human rights to #BoycottMulan. https://t.co/utmP1tIWNa
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) September 4, 2020
And similar criticism has also been made of fellow actor Donnie Yen:
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) September 4, 2020
Supporters from other East Asian nations also came forward to show solidarity:
It seems our #Thai friends have tweeted the hashtag over 100,000 times!
— James Lee Proudfoot🎗 (@PhilosophyNook) September 4, 2020
As a Filipina under a government that signed a law suppressing the fundamental rights and freedoms of Filipinos and someone who supports Thailand's fight for their rights, I stand with the people of Hong Kong. #BoycottMulan https://t.co/Cr7Tbk5oSh
— REINE⁷ 雷內 🦄 (@meeyugap) September 4, 2020
Melbourne-based human rights activist James Lee Proudfoot told The Canary that the call for a boycott has served as an important tool to raise awareness around the Hong Kong protests:
I see #BoycottMulan as an extremely useful tool for raising awareness about police brutality and the plight of Hong Kongers.
For some, supporting human rights and democracy can seem as lofty and abstract, but by grounding it in a narrative we make it visceral and concrete.
Given Liu Yifei’s status as a celebrity we are also able to generate significant interest and reach audiences who might not be familiar with the situation in Hong Kong.
Your meme is strong
Of course, the memes have come out in full force:
— lll. (@___lgc___) September 4, 2020
— (ดิสแก้บน) driving crazy mode turns on (@KLJTJ2613) September 4, 2020
— หมีน้อยในป่าใหญ่ (@kradingmaeww) September 4, 2020
In particular, memes depicted an act of solidarity by protesters who wore an eye patch. This was in response to a woman who suffered a serious eye injury as a result of police brutality:
— น า เ ดี ย ⛱ (@dearmhmm) September 4, 2020
People are sharing memes such as the one above of Mulan wearing an eye patch and face mask. It’s an ode to both Mulan’s struggle for justice and Hong Kong protesters during the pandemic.
The spirit of Mulan
One of the reasons for the call to boycott appears to be linked to the story of Mulan herself, and its message of defiance. Mulan, according to the Chinese legend, broke formally imposed rules in order to do what’s right and fight for justice. This doesn’t seem too far removed from protesters disrupting the peace and taking direct action in order to demand their rights in Hong Kong.
Speaking to The Canary, writer and actor Daniel York Loh said:
Of course not every actor can embody their character’s values. But Mulan is essentially a story of a rebel warrior woman who fights to defend her community. How can we watch actors portraying this story who actively support the brutal suppression of human rights in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Tibet and Southern Mongolia – from a position of extreme privilege and even a US passport?
In the same vein, some people have used the hashtag to call attention to protester Agnes Chow Ting, who was arrested and recently convicted for “inciting protesters”.
— Erich Parpart (@erich_parpart) September 4, 2020
— 秘密 (@HongAnh57258013) September 2, 2020
The big picture
What we watch is about so much more than entertainment. By consuming media, we implicitly show our support for it, and it therefore speaks to our values and worldview. Rather than just being empty entertainment, the media we consume can be an endorsement of the world in which we want to live.
We have the power, as viewers, to send a message to Disney, the actors in Mulan, and the Hong Kong administration. We may love Mulan, but we reject attacks on protesters and police brutality.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?