How the Hong Kong protests created the #BoycottMulan campaign
August 17, 2019 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Months away from release, Disney’s live-action Mulan is facing political backlash. Disney’s upcoming live-action version of its animated 1998 film Mulan is still months away from its March 2020 release. And as has often been the case with the studio’s live-action remakes, the project has not been without some backlash since it was announced. But amid the ongoing political unrest in Hong Kong, 2020’s Mulan is also now a target of protesters there — for reasons that have little to do with the movie. Instead, it’s Mulan’s Chinese American star Liu Yifei’s public support for the controversial Hong Kong police force that has instigated a growing call to #BoycottMulan entirely.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (20 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I often wonder about how to articulate the peculiar ethics of an artist boycott in cases where not consuming (i.e. not paying for) the work of one artist necessarily means boycotting hundreds of blameless others.

I'm on board with drawing attention to this actor's political grossness. I'm on board with theintent behind boycotting her work - so that she feels the sting in a tangible location. I'm of the Hannah Gadsby persuasion - "Hindsight is a gift. Stop wasting my time." But to boycott a whole movie because of the sins of one star seems ... unfair and even counter productive.

But, hypocritical old me, I'll never watch a Roman Polanski or Woody Allen movie. I'll never watch an Aziz Ansari or Louis CK special. Even though hundreds of blameless other people worked on them and would benefit from the dollars I spend on those shows, something about the transgressions coming from men at the very helm of whole production (rather than a 'mere' actor) makes swearing off these shows seem more reasonable to me. I have no idea how to logically explain this stuff. Sigh.

As an aside, "Where's Mushu?" is the silliest thing I've ever fucking heard. To cram a minstrel-like black comic-relief character into a semi-historical story set in ancient China may have worked in the early 90's but goddamn I hope it would not fly today.
posted by MiraK at 9:05 AM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have no idea how to logically explain this stuff. Sigh.

You don't empathize with the people of Hong Kong. Like, just admit that, and maybe scrutinize your privilege and fragility there.

Protests "being" unfair has been the CCP's party line. By repeating this concern, you're unwittingly helping spread their propaganda. Globally.

The few of us who have stake in this conflict can't even freely express too much in here, for obvious safety reasons. Something to consider.
posted by polymodus at 9:53 AM on August 17, 2019 [31 favorites]

polymodus, I lived in HK through my teens... It's one of the places I put down roots in and called home. Obviously I don't have as direct a stake as anyone who lives there now, but I am not entirely disconnected either.

The country I was born in and spent my first few years in, India, is also in the grips of fascism rn, and there are Indian movie stars who support the current government whose movies I am similarly conflicted about watching. So, okay, three of the stars in this movie have done amazing work to support indigenous people's rights but a fourth star invited Modi to her wedding, and so people are calling for a boycott - how does anyone do the math here?

I know I am reducing a life-and-death conflict to "Which movies should I boycott and why", but in my defense, I thought it was okay to speak this way in a thread which is explicitly about "Which movies should I boycott and why." One thing you are right about, polymodus, is the fact that this is not a discussion that any person who lives in HK right now can engage in as clinically as I am doing, with the emotional distance that I have from it. So I'll stop now. I'm truly sorry for going into this angle.
posted by MiraK at 10:24 AM on August 17, 2019 [22 favorites]

Apparently a bunch of chinese celebrities had posted the exact same thing on weibo around the same time, which has lead to speculation that she was pressured into making that post as opposed to holding the position personally. On Twitter I also often see throwaway accounts making random pro-china/police tweets in every thread about HK.
posted by picklenickle at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

I often wonder about how to articulate the peculiar ethics of an artist boycott in cases where not consuming (i.e. not paying for) the work of one artist necessarily means boycotting hundreds of blameless others.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it only the main star like Yifei (or not even her) who earns more money when box office receipts are high? Everyone else that worked on the film is paid out of the film's budget and don't really have a direct monetary stake in the film's success. At least that's my understanding.
posted by ryanrs at 12:58 PM on August 17, 2019 [10 favorites]

The Chinese government has a lot of control over it's homegrown celebrities Another case was the abrupt removal from public life of Fan Bingbing, who was at the time China's biggest movie star.
posted by PenDevil at 3:58 PM on August 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

I know this is silly, but when people say, "I will never watch a [name of some guy/gal] movie, despite the hundreds of other blameless people who worked on it," I don't get it. The end credits of a movie today will list close to a thousand names. How can all those people be 'blameless'? None of them ever sexually assaulted anyone? Or said something racist or nationalist? If that's your measure, you should never watch any movie, past or present or future, ever again.
posted by jabah at 4:20 PM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Making a decision to avoid a work of art because of how we feel about those involved is a decision everyone makes all the time. It’s a personal, complex metric and it’s a bit silly to criticize as it amounts to to telling someone they need to alter their personality.

Boycotting a film to support an ethical cause is entirely different. Here it is the avoidance of buying that is the statement, and the action itself is more important than the calculation behind it. It’s sad that in our world one of the more effective ways to raise awareness around a cause is to refuse to spend money, but it is effective as this article shows. Disney is probably more concerned about the bad publicity than loss of profits so I don’t think wringing hands about lost dollars is really the point. Nor should people avoid seeing the film personally if it falls below their ick threshold.

The important questions are: why are these people protesting? What is their cause? And if you are moved, what can you do to help?
posted by q*ben at 4:50 PM on August 17, 2019 [9 favorites]

Even though hundreds of blameless other people worked on them and would benefit from the dollars I spend on those shows

I mean, while I don't know all the ins and outs of TV & movie contracts, I do work in the live music end of the entertainment biz, and I think it's a pretty safe bet that an awful lot of the blameless people, the techs and the gaffers and the best boys and the tens or hundreds of the "what do they do?" people in the credits have already been paid. Especially for something like a Louie CK or Aziz Ansari show where the boycott happens after the release - the work has been done, the product has been delivered, the checks have been signed. At that point I think you can certainly boycott with a clear conscience, as the only people likely to get more money out of a show are the stars and producers and studio and distributors. The camera operators and the lighting crew have gotten all the money they're going to get out of that production long ago.

Something like Mulan, where a strong enough threat of a boycott may mean the film is never finished, might mean some of the below-the-line folks lose some work and some money, but even then it's more like a contract ending early - even if they work for a separate company contracted to do certain work (like special effects), deposits have been made, checks have been cut, wages have been paid for the work already done. (And contracts have been signed, so a production shutting down early almost certainly means lawsuits to collect at least some more of the money potentially owed.)

The people you seem to be concerned about mostly get paid before the show or movie is released, their income doesn't rely on the public buying tickets. Boycotting a movie or show mostly hurts the reputation of the "big names" associated with it, and to a certain extent their wallets, most everyone else has already gotten their wages and have moved on to the next project.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:07 PM on August 17, 2019 [14 favorites]

I'm old enough to remember the slaughter at and after Tiananmen Square — and China is readying to do now to peaceful protesters in Hong Kong what it did back then. I plan to keep that in mind as much as possible, and I hope others do, as well.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:46 PM on August 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think it's only right to boycott this movie. The Hong Kong police blinded a protester when they shot her in the eye--among an untold number of other atrocities. Some people might say, celebrities in China are being forced to post their support of the Hong Kong police--against their beliefs. These celebrities have far less to lose and suffer far less than the protesters and people of Hong Kong, as well as political dissidents who have been kidnapped and detained by the Chinese government. They have millions of dollars in earnings and property and have connections to powerful and rich people in China. They are not vulnerable and not victims. And, a shitty Weibo post, regardless of one's personal beliefs, is support for the police and their violence.

tldr; I just don't know anymore, when someone can say, "Oh, x celebrity was FORCED to say this (on the pain of losing some money), therefore I totally forgive them, they aren't doing anything wrong."

I truly hope that this film bombs. But it won't.
posted by catbird at 2:12 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

China does have history of disappearing it's famous actors and other famous figures, the most recent one I'm aware of is Fan Bingbing who went missing for months before reappearing with significant fine.

I'm sure there are more recent, I do not follow Chinese politics with any sort of depth. But to say they don't have anything to lose or less to lose is likely very very wrong.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:23 AM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

This discussion is enlightening. The emerging consensus seems to be that regardless of any individual's culpability for the statements they made in support of violent fascists, and regardless of whose bottom line is or is not hurt, the right thing to do is to boycott any undertaking which is associated with support for violent fascists in order to send a message to the violent fascists. Or at least about violent fascism, to the effect of: we do not tolerate it, we will not support those who support it.

I can definitely get behind that. I see the utility and the necessity of taking such a stand.
posted by MiraK at 6:06 AM on August 18, 2019 [6 favorites]

catbird, the celebrity may have been forced to make the statement on the pain of losing a family member, not the pain of losing some money. China is disappearing the families of Uighurs protesting what is being done in their region. Here's a list of just some of the high-profile Chinese people who vanished in 2018.
posted by rednikki at 10:05 AM on August 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

I’m not sure how the Chinese government has a stake in whether or not anyone sees Mulan which is a Disney owned property. Additional tax revenues from what that actress will make in salary?

These things strike me as the equivalent of #komy2012. I know this won’t be a popular sentiment. I would just close this thread and donate or do whatever you can elsewhere if you want to make an impact. Raise awareness of the people who are being kidnapped and sent to re-education camps. And also not see the movie cause that’s easy. But thinking the Chinese government will notice the box office return on Mulan seems... strange. Do they own part of Disney? This seems like a distraction from an actual problem.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:43 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Umm, you seem to have just answered your own question. The boycott is meant to raise awareness among the public. It's succeeded in that at least. And it's definitely not the only thing the HK protesters are doing either.
posted by FJT at 11:42 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

China’s Great Firewall no barrier to ugly online battles over Hong Kong protests
Chinese state media has led the charge online, with state news agency Xinhua posting a cartoon on Facebook depicting Hong Kong protesters as cockroaches and state broadcaster CCTV posting a poem on Twitter likening demonstrators to Nazis. The English arm of CCTV even created a rap video taking aim at the protesters, with lyrics like: All I see is a beautiful dream turning to a nightmare / Can I say hi there! / Hong Kong they all liars.

Yuan Zeng, a lecturer at the University of Leeds in Britain, said the Chinese leadership had been “strategically institutionalising social media” into the party’s propaganda machine with strict censorship and state-media-led narratives. She said it had been effective and created a “dangerous ideological divide” between mainlanders and Hongkongers.

“You can observe an “information curve” on the topic of Hong Kong during the past months: from no mention at all at the beginning to dry official statements, to today’s all-round bellicose propaganda campaign,” she said. “These grass-root campaigns [like Diba] are of course state-sanctioned. State media also use social media to echo and endorse such campaigns, which are largely aggressive and somehow feature a Cultural Revolution style.”

One of the fiercest online battles has been between LIHKG and Diba users, who have led targeted harassment of pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong such as Canto-pop singer Denise Ho Wan-sze and pan-democrat lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching. But one “battle expedition” on July 22 by Diba to disrupt LIHKG backfired when members had their real identities and personal information leaked onto the forum, which requires registration through a genuine IP address.
I think this puts everything into greater context. Both the Party and the protesters are engaged in a total PR war in addition to the street demonstrations and protests. The Party has lined up many celebrities, including K-Pop stars in support of the government. It's more than just the government or the Party. It's also about shifting public opinion.

I know it may seem like a "distraction" and maybe it's a Metafilter thing to think everyone is like you and too smart to fall for this supposedly, but let me ask one question: just who is in the White House right now?
posted by FJT at 12:26 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

China Attacks Hong Kong Protests with Fake Social Posts
Twitter announced Monday it had removed over 900 accounts it believes were established by the Chinese government, which were “deliberately and specifically" attempting to sow political discord and undermine "the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.” The accounts were part of a much larger network of around 200,000 accounts Twitter took down before they were "substantially active" on the service.

Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a blog post that the company had similarly removed five Facebook accounts, seven pages followed by a total of around 15,500 people, and three groups with a combined 2,200 members that an investigation found had links to the Chinese government.

posted by FJT at 11:15 AM on August 20, 2019

Y'know, I thought there was no way the Party was going to respond directly to the boycott because it only brings attention to it. But, I guess I was wrong:

China Uses Disney’s ‘Mulan’ to Attack Hong Kong Protests
But suspicious accounts portraying Hong Kong protesters as “thugs” and “terrorists” who “just want to beat people under the pretext of democracy” continue to post on the platforms under the guise of being fans of Liu and “Mulan.” In their posts, Liu’s Mulan has become a symbol of China’s strength and willingness to defend its territorial claims and political system.

A commonly tweeted image zooms in on Disney’s new film poster, highlighting the Chinese character for “loyalty” engraved on Mulan’s sword, which is a combination of the characters for “heart” and “middle,” as in “Middle Kingdom.”

“Chinese heart,” the tweet says, implying Mulan’s patriotism through wordplay. “‘Useless youths,’ can you read that?” The phrase “useless youths” is a contemptuous slur used to put down young pro-democracy protesters as whiners who make no contributions.
Disney still has not officially said anything about all this, but the fact that Liu Yifei is not at today's Mulan panel or press line for the big Disney property promoting D23 Expo is telling.
posted by FJT at 3:34 PM on August 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

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