Mulan: Enemy of the People?

Most people outside of China won’t have heard of Liu Yifei. Or rather, most people outside of China wouldn’t have heard of her before a controversial remark appeared on her social media recently. The remark in question rears its head on the highly censored Chinese social media site “Weibo” and states “I support Hong Kong’s police, you can beat me up now. What a shame for Hong Kong”.

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the situation in Hong Kong will have undoubtedly seen at least some of the atrocities caused by the police. Hong Kong citizens have had to endure tear gas canisters raining from illegal and dangerous heights, random attacks on protestors from both the police and pro-Chinese groups, as well as mass surveillance and facial recognition software turning the region into an Orwellian nightmare. And through all this striking image of peaceful protestors being beaten, old women being tear-gassed, and even police attempting to gouge a protestors eye out continue to emerge on a daily basis. How then —some may ask— could someone like Yifei, who portrays a hero of the people in her newest movie ‘Mulan’, possibly stand in support of the police and not the protestors? Doesn’t such a person have a duty to stand up in defence of the oppressed masses and to turn their art into something to help the downtrodden?

Simply put, yes, they do. But while it’s true that the real Hua Mulan would stand with the protestors, it’s important to remember that Yifei is not Mulan and an important distinction needs to be drawn between the art form and those involved in the creation of that art. Mulan, fans of the original animated movie will remember, stood up against the status quo to protect people from oppression, even when the Chinese elites rejected her. Liu Yifei, on the other hand, is a member of the Chinese elite and not an underdog soldier. She’s enjoyed a comfortable life as a mouthpiece for Chinese propaganda thanks primarily to the fortune and business connections of her Godfather and takes for granted her relative freedom as an American citizen whilst criticising the very people her character would seek to protect.

Liu Yifei is not a ‘hero of the people’, she’s not even on the same side as ‘the people’. Her interests will always lie in maintaining the status quo of an oppressive regime and as such her remarks should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with her. In response to her remarks, a movement is gathering momentum to #BoycottMulan, but is it enough? Many Chinese citizens (who the Chinese media are shamelessly attempting to brainwash into condemning the protests) are gathering to support the movie, and with them being Disney’s target demographic for the upcoming remake, the impact of a western boycott has to be questioned.

Instead, should we be looking critically at who we let get involved in the creation of the art we consume? Should we let regressive elites walk all over us and still buy their creative works? Or do we need to work harder to separate the art from the artist in a way that doesn’t just let artists (and actors) get away with whatever they want? Regardless of the answer, Mulan is still expected to make millions at the box office, and Yifei’s fortune will protect her from ever facing the same level of oppression as the people she is so critical of.

Photo Credit: Disney