When I was growing up, Mulan was my hero. The legendary story of Hua Mulan (“Fa Mulan” in the Disney movie), who defied traditional laws at the time to take her aged father’s place in military service, resonated with me, especially since she was the only Disney hero who looked like me. I watched the animated film together with my parents, who didn’t grow up in the U.S. like I did, and they used the film and the tale of Mulan to point out the virtues of standing up for the weak and how civil disobedience can be patriotic (perhaps also a not-so-subtle hint that I should take their place in military services, should they ever be called for it — after all, my last name makes a brief appearance in the Disney film).
Nearly twenty years later, I should be amongst the target audience of Disney’s live-action remake, not only as a fan of the original 1996 film but also as a day-one film-goer of Crazy Rich Asians, 2018’s mainstream Hollywood movie with a majority Asian cast.
But I am not going to watch Mulan next year.
I cannot ignore the recent actions of the lead actress of 2020’s Mulan, Liu Yifei, who spoke in support of the Hong Kong police amidst the historic wave of protests sweeping the city.
The actress retweeted an image that read, “I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong,” and added the hashtag #ISupportTheHongKongPolice. The post was originally circulated by the Chinese state-run newspaper, People’s Daily, on the popular mainland social media site, Weibo, a platform equivalent to Twitter.
These are the same police that I’ve witnessed shoot thousands of rounds of tear gas over, and over, and over at largely unarmed protesters over the course of many peaceful demonstrations, and who appear to have violated experts’ standards for dispersing crowds. These are also the same police who were shockingly absent while gangs of assailants clad in white violently assaulted protesters and bystanders — including a pregnant woman — on public transit as they made their way home.
To watch the videos online is enough to make most people’s stomach churn. To witness it in real life is horrifying. As a current resident, it’s very easy to see the pain inflicted upon my friends, family, and all other Hong Kongers, simply from the things the Hong Kong police choose to do and the things that the police choose not to do. To say that I’m disappointed upon hearing of Liu Yifei’s post is putting it mildly, and I’m not alone in this; in fact, tens of thousands have taken to Twitter to drive the #BoycottMulan movement, raising the same concerns.
To compound the issue, it’s also very easy to feel sympathy for those currently out on the streets of Hong Kong. These protesters, many of them not far from Mulan’s depicted age in the Disney animation, are not spending their summers watching films at home as I did. Instead, they are out in the streets, under the weight of Hong Kong’s heavy heat, fighting for what they feel is an erosion of their civil liberties, a frustration with the lack of representation in their government, and sky-high property prices that are, in part, fueled by a horde of money flowing into Hong Kong from the Mainland. And they are getting beaten by the police on what feels like a daily basis. Most of them are kids: they are the future of Hong Kong.
The Mulan that was depicted in the Disney movie that I love and that used as a heroic example in the stories my parents passed down to me fought to protect the most vulnerable in our society and their way of life — much like how Hong Kong protestors are doing right now.
As the lead in a forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster under the public eye, and as a Chinese person who, in all likelihood, is familiar with the same stories of Mulan, Liu should have chosen to act more wisely on a social platform. Even if she doesn’t agree with the politics of the situation currently taking place in Hong Kong, there are more sympathetic ways to express her point of view. Her shared post in support of the Hong Kong police was, at best, callously indifferent to the plight of millions — which not only includes her potential audience members, but, most importantly, fellow Chinese people — and, at worst, a cruel sign of support of violent suppression.
There will be a new generation, both in Asia and abroad, who will associate Mulan with Liu Yifei and who will be strongly influenced by what the actress says and does both on and off the silver screen. I cannot support — financially or otherwise — someone who is so antithetical to both the Disney character that I idolized and the historical figure that captured generations of Chinese people.
It’s especially disheartening since Liu comes from a position of privilege. She is a celebrity in mainland China, the daughter of a Chinese diplomat, and a naturalized citizen of the United States. Unlike those millions in Hong Kong Liu tacitly spoke against, she has money, influence, and an escape route to another country, should the conditions under the Chinese Communist Party not suit her. This should ring especially true for Liu, since Fan Bing Bing, once the highest-profile Chinese actress in the world, was recently silenced by Chinese Communist Party — an example of how easily a life of privilege can be taken away. Ironically, those protesting in Hong Kong for more civil liberties under Chinese Communist Party rule are also fighting for the rights and freedoms of people like Liu.
So, next year, in lieu of watching yet another live-action remake from Disney, I will be watching the real thing: hundreds of thousands of modern-day Mulans on the streets of Hong Kong, examples to all Chinese.
Special thanks to Jen Paolini whose edits and insights were instrumental for this piece.