Disney’s live-action Mulan remake was scheduled to make its theatrical debut in March, yet just days after its premiere, the movie’s general release was abruptly halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move disappointed fans—yet, to be honest, the Mulan remake has had a history of disappointment.
Adherents of the 1998 animated Mulan were disappointed to find out last year that neither the original songs nor the animated dragon Mushu would be making an appearance in the remake. As mentioned, more disappointment came over the delay of the film’s theatrical release. And yet, even more disappointment came when Disney finally announced Mulan would forgo said theatrical release and head straight to Disney Plus, where viewers could watch it in their own homes—for $30 extra on top of their monthly Disney Plus subscription fee.
And today, September 4, is the day the Mulan remake debuts on the Mouse House’s streaming service. Yet it’s also the day #boycottMulan and #banMulan started trending on social media. So what’s the deal? Are people still angry over the $30 fee and no Mushu?
No, it’s more serious than that—it’s about democracy itself. Here’s the deal:
- Disney sees a big Chinese win: Mulan is one of the first Disney films to feature a virtually all-Asian cast, as well as a mostly Chinese cast (in the major roles, at least). That kind of representation is to be commended, as Mulan is a centuries-old Chinese tale with great significance. Its primarily Chinese cast could help Disney have big success with the film in China, the world’s second-largest movie market. Yet with all things China nowadays, it’s hard not to get political—and that’s what’s happened with Mulan.
- Mulan’s star spoke out against the Hong Kong protestors: That problem mentioned above comes because last August Mulan’s star, Liu Yife, voiced public support for police in Hong Kong, who were violently cracking down on protestors in the region. Posting on her Weibo account in August 2019, Liu wrote in Chinese what translates to “I also support Hong Kong police. You can beat me up now.” She added in English: “What a shame for Hong Kong.” As The Guardian reported at the time, Liu’s comments “were an apparent reference to chants heard by pro-police activists demonstrating in support of a journalist who was beaten by pro-democracy protesters.”
- Early boycotts: Almost immediately after Liu’s comments, people started calling for a boycott of Mulan. However, as the months passed, boycott cries died down. The reared up again in March, when the film was weeks away from hitting theaters.
- The boycott returns: And those same boycott calls are back in force today, with Mulan making its debut on Disney Plus. If anything, Liu’s August 2019 comments enrage protestors even more today than they did in August, since China passed its draconian national security laws, which criminalize what the Chinese government calls “acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security” in the special administrative region this past July. In other words, since Lui’s original comments, things have only grown much worse for Hong Kongers.
- #milkteaalliance joins Mulan boycott, too: A final thing to note is that along with the normal #boycottMulan and #banMulan calls on social media, a related hashtag has also started trending: #milkteaalliance. Milk tea refers to a favorite drink in some parts of Southeast Asia, and the hashtag is being used by Mulan protestors in Thailand, who are tweeting it in solidarity with their Hong Kong neighbors. As The Guardian points out, not only are some in Thailand worried about China’s growing influence over the region, but they are fighting their own pro-democracy battle against Thailand’s current monarchy.
It should be noted that Liu Yife isn’t the only Mulan cast member whose support for her country has led to calls for a Mulan boycott. Her costar, Donnie Yen, who many in America will remember played the role of the blind force-sensitive Chirrut Îmwe in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, has also made comments that people find offensive. In July he posted on social media, stating that the recent changes in Hong Kong marked “the celebration day for Hong Kong returned to motherland China 23 years.”