Disney hasn’t always had the easiest time in China, but amid calls to boycott the live-action version of “Mulan” the entertainment giant is getting help from an unlikely ally: Chinese state media.
Last week, Liu Yifei, the Chinese-born actress playing the eponymous role in the remake, waded into the Hong Kong protest controversy by pledging support for the city’s police, who anti-government demonstrators accuse of using excessive force to quell unrest.
“I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong,” she posted on Weibo, a Twitter-like Chinese social media platform.
Immediately, people began posting #BoycottMulan on Twitter, which is banned in China. Hours later, the hashtag was trending in Hong Kong and the United States. Twitter users accused the actress of supporting police brutality and noted that she’s an American citizen.
“Liu is a naturalized American citizen. It must be nice. Meanwhile she pisses on people fighting for democracy,” one person tweeted.
But on the Chinese internet and in state media it’s been a different story. On those platforms, the actress has received considerable support.
On Thursday, China’s state-run tabloid Global Times published a broadside against the boycott, accusing those who tweeted in support of it of “launching cyber violence against people who supports China.”
“As the hashtag #Mulan was once topped Twitter’s worldwide trend, these naysayers only want to use the popularity of the film to smear the Hong Kong police,” Li Qingqing wrote in the newspaper. “The criticism is not simply targeted at a film. It is a malicious personal attack bordering on racism.”
Retaliation against the boycott on Twitter helped to expose a network of bots that the platform said was being used to coordinate attacks against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong and spread misinformation about the ongoing unrest.
Li, meanwhile, said accounts tweeting in favor of the boycott should be suspended.
On Twitter, where Global Times is one of several state-run outlets maintaining a major presence, the paper said boycotters were “ideological paranoids” and included its own hashtag #SupportMulan.
At the time of writing, the hashtag was largely populated by tweets referencing instances of violence during the protests, and accusing participants of being “thugs” or stooges of Washington fighting for Hong Kong independence.
“In the story of Mulan,” one meme shared by several posters said, “she fights for her family and country in case it’s been divided by others.”