Six months before the release of Disney’s Mulan, the live-action film is already the subject of calls for a boycott after its Chinese American star, Liu Yifei, posted in support of the authorities' crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Liu, who also goes by the name Crystal Liu, will star in the title role of Mulan when the film is released in March. But on Wednesday, the star posted an image on Weibo taken from People’s Daily, a newspaper that acts as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.
"I support Hong Kong's police, you can beat me up now," Liu wrote. "What a shame for Hong Kong."
For the last week, protesters have been camped out at Hong Kong International Airport, but violent scenes broke out Tuesday as demonstrators and riot police clashed in the terminal.
The phrase Liu used in her post — "you can beat me up now" — has become a rallying cry online for people from mainland China who oppose the protests after footage went viral showing a Chinese state-media reporter shouting it while being assaulted by demonstrators at the airport.
The outbursts Tuesday came on the heels of 10 weeks of sometimes violent protests initially sparked by an extradition bill that would allow the local government to transfer people accused of some crimes to mainland China. Since 1997, after it returned to China from the British, Hong Kong has been granted some political and legal freedoms that those on the mainland do not enjoy. Critics feared the new bill would erode this degree of independence.
But what began as a demonstration against one bill has since ballooned into a massive pro-democracy movement. The authorities in Beijing have blamed, without evidence, Westerners for creating the unrest.
Riot police have become a fixture on Hong Kong's streets, and some demonstrators have been severely injured by authorities. (Officials have said police have also been injured.)
Liu's decision to wade into the controversy has been blasted by democracy campaigners and online supporters.
The actor, who was born in China and later became a naturalized US citizen, has been criticized for living in a country where freedom of speech is celebrated while failing to support protesters fighting for the same rights.
“Real ironic for a naturalized American citizen to shit on people fighting for freedom and democracy,” said one person who participated in the hashtag calling for a boycott of the actor’s upcoming film.
Others have accused the actor of supporting police brutality.
“Mulan actress basically saying ‘I support the Hong Kong police (brutality), bite me’ let’s do so via #BoycottMulan,” said another.
Supporters of the pro-democracy protests have descended on the actor’s Instagram comments section, leaving disapproving statements about her views.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Liu's representatives for comment.
Disney has been urged to comment on the issue but is unlikely to do so.
“So, where do you stand Disney?” one Twitter user said. “Is profit the most important to you, or do you support people who want nothing more in their lives than freedom - as characterized in plenty of your movies? Or do you side with China? Pretty sure it's answer one unfortunately.”
Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Liu's comments stand in contrast with those of Denise Ho, a Canadian pop star who was born in Hong Kong.
“We have to stand strong and stand together,” Ho told BuzzFeed News. “It’s so easy to spread fear, and that is how the Communist Party manipulates everyone.”