Disney’s “Mulan” is one of the first major releases since the coronavirus pandemic shut down movie theaters around the world. Originally scheduled for wide theatrical release in March 2020, it was delayed multiple times as Disney continued to assess when theaters might be open again. The studio ultimately premiered the film on September 4 on Disney+ for a premium fee in countries where the service had launched, and is starting to hit theaters abroad, although certainly not without controversy.
Despite anticipation for the live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1998 animated film of the same name, “Mulan” has been plagued by calls to boycott the film, which began in August 2019, when star Liu Yifei appeared to show support for Hong Kong’s police, who have been accused of violence towards pro-democracy protesters. The actress reshared an image posted by Chinese newspaper People’s Daily, which included a quote from Chinese reporter Fu Guohao who worked for the Global Times: “I support Hong Kong police. You can beat me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.”
This sparked international controversy, with the actress being accused of supporting police brutality, and the hashtag, #BoycottMulan, started trending. Nearly a year later and with the film now released, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are reigniting calls to boycott the film, this time joined by Thai and Taiwanese activists.
“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,” prominent Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong tweeted on Friday.
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
Thai student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal has also been asking his followers to avoid the movie so that “Disney and the Chinese government know that the violence of the state against the people is unacceptable.”
พรุ่งนี้ Mulan เริ่มฉายวันแรก แต่เรายังไม่ลืมที่นักแสดงมู่หลานสนับสนุนการใช้ความรุนแรงของตำรวจต่อผู้ชุมนุมฮ่องกงที่ต่อสู้เพื่อเสรีภาพและประชาธิปไตย
เชิญชวนทุกคน #BoycottMulan #BanMulan เพื่อให้ทางดีสนีย์และรัฐบาลจีนรู้ว่าความรุนแรงของรัฐต่อประชาชนเป็นสิ่งที่ยอมรับไม่ได้ pic.twitter.com/g7bkIoTo9r
— Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal (@NetiwitC) September 3, 2020
These renewed calls to boycott the film are being largely set in motion by an online movement uniting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan, called the #MilkTeaAlliance — named after the beverage that’s popular in all three regions — who are concerned with China’s influence.
International audiences, particularly in China, are crucial to Disney’s strategy, and with tensions still high in Hong Kong, a few months after Beijing imposed a controversial national security law on the city, the studio’s release of the film, couldn’t be happening in a more unfavorable climate.
It remains to be seen whether these protests have any long term effect on the success of “Mulan.” The Niki Caro-directed film has grossed $5.9 million from nine countries in its international opening weekend, including $1.2 million in Thailand. It’s scheduled to be released in China on September 11.
The original 1998 animated Mulan film underperformed in China in part because Disney’s incarnation of the legendary heroine was considered too “foreign-looking,” with mannerisms that didn’t match the Mulan of Chinese folklore.
The 2020 live-action “Mulan” has been well-received by critics since its release. IndieWire’s Kate Erbland gave it a B+ grade, calling it a “sweeping live-action Disney epic” that “reimagines a heroine worth fighting for.”