Mulan’s Disney+ release is reigniting a boycott movement
After the coronavirus pandemic forced Disney to delay and eventually cancel a global theatrical release of its live-action Mulan earlier this year, the movie debuted on the company’s streaming platform on Friday.
In China, where cinemas started reopening in late July, Mulan will appear in theaters starting Sept. 11, and Disney has a lot riding on the mainland release.
The entertainment giant has spent years trying ensure that Mulan, based on the Chinese folk story “Ballad of Mulan,” pulls in mainland audiences, unlike Disney’s 1998 animated film of the same name, which flopped there.
Disney producers made a concerted effort to represent Chinese values as accurately as possible in hopes of attracting moviegoers in China, the second-biggest box office in the world. (Before the pandemic upended the global industry, China was projected to surpass the U.S. to become the world’s largest cinema market.) Mulan producers also cast Chinese actors who are popular in mainland China, cut scenes that Chinese test audiences didn’t like, and shared the script with Chinese authorities and advisers to make sure the film would secure approval for a theatrical release.
Despite Disney’s careful planning, Mulan hasn’t managed to escape controversy.
In August 2019, at the height of the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, Liu Yifei, the Chinese-American actress who plays Mulan in the movie, shared a post on Chinese social media expressing her support for the Hong Kong police. Calls to #BoycottMulan proliferated on social media in Hong Kong and from pro-democracy activists in the region, who accused Liu of advocating police brutality against protesters.
The film’s delay also postponed the boycott campaign, but its Disney+ debut on Friday and upcoming theatrical release in Hong Kong have revived the movement.
Students and activists in Korea staged a protest in late July calling for a boycott in support of protesters in Hong Kong. Activists in Thailand staged similar demonstrations on Thursday, holding signs that read #BanMulan. The hashtag #BoycottMulan was trending on Twitter in Hong Kong on Friday.
Disney didn’t immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment.
“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,” Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Whether the boycott movement discourages streamers and moviegoers from seeing the film remains to be seen. The campaign is likely to gain the most traction in Hong Kong, where Mulan debuts in theaters on Sept. 17. But the box office in Hong Kong is small; revenue totaled $247 million in 2019. For Disney executives weighing the success of the $200 million project, mainland China’s $9.2 billion box office is a far bigger prize.