Don't Give a Dime to Disney. Don't Rent 'Mulan' | Opinion

Liu Yifei is no hero, she just plays one in the movies. This is true of most actors, but it particularly applies to her and her colleague Donnie Yen—stars of the new live action remake of the 1998 Disney animated classic "Mulan."

While the film was getting ready to premiere, actual heroes were taking to the streets of Hong Kong. For over a year they have been protesting in favor of democracy and against a now-defunct extradition law, police misconduct, and the curtailment of their political rights. Just like protesters, myself included, calling for justice here in the U.S., their demands have been met by state violence. Despite intimidation, police brutality, arrests, and shootings they have been fighting back like lions. They've met guns and batons with umbrellas, laser pointers, and whatever was handy. They were surrounded, trapped in Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and held out for days against the odds. They are warriors. The real deal.

Now that a new Security Law has come to pass, their fears have come to fruition. The Chinese Communist Party is banning books, suppressing demonstrations, attacking critical media outlets, disqualifying political candidates, and doing all the other vile work of dictatorship. One of those arrested under this law, democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting, has earned the moniker of "the real Mulan." A fitting title in my mind.

How did Liu and Yen react to Hong Kong's oppression? They raised their voices in support of the oppressor. Liu expressed her approval of the Hong Kong Police on social media while Yen has repeatedly made his opposition to the protesters clear on his accounts.

Liu recently tried to walk this back some by claiming naivete, that the question is "complicated," and she is "not a political expert." She didn't seem to have these qualms when she made the original comment, which makes this reek of insincerity, damage control, and PR spin. She is a mature professional who is smart enough to be informed. She knew what she was saying.

Many will argue art can be separated from the artist, that it's not reflective of their political views. This is a tough question with no easy answers, and one with which I personally still struggle. No matter. This is less about aesthetics than economics: In light of their actions is it moral to pay money for a film that is going to be used in large part to advance the careers of Liu and Yen? The answer is no.

When I brought up these concerns with an old friend of mine they told me that more people worked on "Mulan" than just the actors, and the film is important for Asian representation in Hollywood. True, more than one person works on any film, but Liu is the star. She is the face of the project and one of the people who can benefit most from its success. Even in promotional material cast and crew gush about her excellence and perfection for the role. Director Niki Caro said, "she is indeed not only the complete package, but definitely the only one that could ever have played Mulan."

"Yifei fits this role to a T. She is Mulan," said actor Tzi Ma, who plays the titular character's father Hua Zhou.

To put her so front and center contradicts any notion that her statements can be separated from her performance. Besides, the entire film is tainted. At least some of it was shot in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims are being held in what can only be described as concentration camps. The credits thank the Turpan Public Security Bureau, which has played a key role in this atrocity. This is sickening. As someone who has done some immigrants' rights activism, my mind makes connections to what's happening in the U.S. Imagine if a production had filmed in the Southwest and thanked The Border Patrol while they were busy ripping families apart and locking children in cages. There would have been outrage if a movie had expressed gratitude to the Stasi or Pinochet's henchmen in the midst of their crimes. No moral person would have anything but contempt for it. This should be no different.

As for the argument about Asian representation I am very sympathetic. This was a primary focus of a theatre company I was a member of in college. Hollywood has a long, shameful history of marginalizing Asian people, and that is something in desperate need of remedy. This need not mean turning our backs on the Hong Kong protesters. No one should be left behind in the struggle for justice. There must be solidarity. There are immensely talented Asian creatives who are producing great work, using their voices for good, and not licking the boot of tyranny. They deserve support far more than Liu and Yen.

When Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling expressed transphobic sentiments earlier this year, the cast of the films came out strongly in support of the transgender community. If they can stand for what's right Liu and Yen could have as well. When Colin Kaepernick was treated so unjustly by the league for his righteous protest, many boycotted the NFL. If people can stand in solidarity with a good man demonstrating for justice in the States, they can do it with those calling for a boycott of "Mulan" in Hong Kong.

Mulan would have fought alongside the protesters

A key reason so many people love Mulan is that rather than being a damsel in distress she is a heroine who saves all of China. She's a role model who doesn't have superpowers and isn't the chosen one. She's a normal person who when confronted by dire circumstances acts courageously in defense of her family, people, and what she knows to be right. She is like the protesters all over the world right now standing up for justice, be it in Kenosha, Minsk, or Hong Kong.

Science fiction author Jeanette Ng perhaps put it best when she gave this short but poignant tribute in her acceptance speech for the 2019 Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

"I was born in Hong Kong. Right now, in the most cyberpunk in the city in the world, protesters struggle with the masked, anonymous stormtroopers of an autocratic Empire. They have literally just held her largest illegal gathering in their history. As we speak they are calling for a horological revolution in our time. They have held laser pointers to the skies and tried to to impossibly set alight the stars. I cannot help be proud of them, to cry for them, and to lament their pain."

I cannot help but be ashamed of Liu and Yen, who toady for those who cause such pain. One can have complete contempt and dismissal for any foul Sinophobic notions, while still holding them accountable. They stand shoulder to shoulder with the CCP, an altogether evil organization that is diametrically opposed to artistic freedom. This is why I will not be watching their performances. Yen is no one's Commander Tung, and Liu is no one's Mulan.

Mathew Foresta is a writer, journalist, photographer, and activist. His work has appeared in USA Today, VICE, HuffPost, LAist, and Pasadena Weekly. You can follow him on Twitter @ForestaWriter and on Instagram @Foresta_Writer.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.