Last week came the news that Liu Yifei, the Chinese-American actress who plays the title role in Disney’s live-action remake of their 1988 animated hit “Mulan,” caused controversy with some of her postings on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
Liu posted comments supposedly supporting the Hong Kong Police Force who have been accused of using excessive force against anti-government protesters and journalists. In the wake of that, a number of people took to various social media platforms to call out Liu using the hashtag #BoycottMulan and encouraging people to not watch the film when it is released in March.
In response to that, nationalists seemingly rallied behind the film online, using marketing material from both the live-action and 1998 animated film for pro-government memes under the hashtag #SupportMulan. Then, earlier this week, Twitter announced (via Indiewire) it had deleted 936 accounts linked to the #SupportMulan campaign as most were: “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground”.
Also following an internal investigation, Twitter said there was “reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation”. Facebook did a similar action the same day, removing several accounts.
Cut to today and Variety reports that similar content from suspicious accounts continues to proliferate widely online, especially Twitter, including its use of the new “Mulan” and its star as their ‘mascot’ to try to discredit demonstrators. Said active accounts have “the hallmarks of being state-backed bots”.
In addition, official Chinese news outlets have publicly backed a #SupportMulan campaign which means Disney is now in the position of finding itself being defended by the biggest present-day authoritarian regime. The Beijing-aligned Global Times also indicated this week that if Disney were to recast and remove Liu from the film it will “lose a potential 1.4 billion Chinese audience.”
As of now, it’s not clear what impact this will have on the film or its box-office.