Star of ‘Mulan’ Makes Trouble for Disney

Mulan, the story of an ancient Chinese girl who disguises herself as a man to join the fight against barbarians invading China to save her aging father from having to serve, is the latest Disney animated film to get the live-action treatment.

A Chinese born actress, model, and musician named Yifei Liu has been cast in the title now. Liu is a naturalized American citizen who has worked on both sides of the Pacific Rim. Now, we can add to her repertoire, political troublemaker.

The BBC explains:

“Ms. Liu had shared a Weibo post from the government-run Beijing newspaper People’s Daily that read (in Chinese): ‘I also support Hong Kong police. You can beat me up now.’

“The post adds in English: ‘What a shame for Hong Kong.’”

Weibo is a Chinese social media platform that is subject to heavy Chinese government censorship. The post that Liu shared was from a journalist who was taken to be a Chinese government agent by Hong Kong protestors at that city’s airport and was beaten badly.

Liu has bought herself and Disney endless trouble on western social media, which is censored in China. The Twitter hashtag #BoycottMulan has gone viral as many people tweeted their dismay at Liu supporting police brutality in Hong Kong in an attempt to suppress a pro-democracy protest movement,

The protests began when a law was proposed to allow for the extradition of Hong Kong residents who had been accused of crimes to the Chinese mainland. The law would have violated the agreement between Great Britain and China that mandated that Hong Kong, a former British colony, enjoy more civil rights and democracy than the rest of China when it was transferred to Chinese control in 1997.

The proposed law has been shelved, but the protest movement has expanded to a general pro-democracy campaign. Hong Kong protestors have taken to waving the American flag and singing the Star-Spangled Banner to show their affinity to the most powerful democratic republics on the planet.

The protests have raised fears that the Chinese government will enact a bloody crackdown, just as it did 30 years ago when similar protests erupted in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Such a move would take place against a backdrop of trade negotiations between China and the Trump administration as well as a program to clamp control over the lives of ordinary Chinese with the so-called social credit system. The reaction by the United States and the rest of the world to a bloody crackdown with Chinese Peoples Liberation Army troops would be catastrophic, observers have noted.

Disney has a lot to lose in the boycott of Mulan gains traction. The film company has spent $290 million to produce the movie and will likely spend more to market and distribute it. The rule of thumb in the film industry is that a movie needs to make double its production budget to be profitable. That means Mulan needs to make at least $600 million worldwide to make Disney money.

One matter for concern by Disney is that the calls to boycott Mulan are originating in Hong Kong itself. If the boycott spreads to mainland China, now a prime market for the American film industry, the movie and Disney may be in trouble. Vox also notes another problem with what Liu did:

“Most striking to the Disney fans who have joined the social media conversation, however, is that Liu’s post suggests she’s the furthest thing from the character she plays. In the original film, Mulan is a radical hero, deeply devoted to the people of her country. Now that Liu has revealed her stance on the Hong Kong protests, the fact that it doesn’t seem to align with the character of Mulan is difficult for many fans to take.”

Neither Liu nor Disney, as of this writing, have responded to the firestorm that has been created.

Mulan is due to be released in late March 2020, so both have time to try to repair matters. However, some care will have to be taken. The Chinese government takes a dim view of criticism of its policies or even unfavorable depictions in American movies.

Hollywood, with its eye on the lucrative Chinese market, has thus far kowtowed to Beijing. Even though a cold war in all but name exists between China and the United States, filmgoers will not see that reflected in American movies and TV shows for the foreseeable future.