For 52 years, movie fans in Hong Kong have enjoyed the annual telecast of the Academy Awards. Not this year. The Hong Kong broadcaster TVB says it will not be showing the Oscars for 2021.
Although TVB denies it, almost everyone in their viewing area suspects the reason is fear — fear of a government backlash against publicizing the nominations of Do Not Split for best documentary short, and Chloé Zhao, the first Chinese woman and the first woman of color to be nominated for best director.
In both cases, local pride falls before local prudence. Do Not Split focuses on the 2019 Hong Kong protests against Chinese attempts to quash Hong Kong’s democracy and reduce its autonomy from Beijing. And Chloé Zhao is on Xi Jinping’s Xit Xeet for a 2013 interview in which she criticized China’s political leaders. Another documentary of the protest movement, Inside the Red Brick Wall, was recently pulled by the Hong Kong theater that had advertised a showing.
Talk about “cancel culture.”
And you have to wonder how much longer Hong Kong’s newest cultural monument, the M+ Museum of Fine Art will be allowed to continue to display the world-famous selfie of the Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei extending a middle finger towards Tiananmen Square, where Chinese troops attacked pro-democracy protesters in 1989. Pro-Beijing Hong Kong politicos and news outlets call Ai’s picture and other photos of the Tiananmen crackdown an insult to China.
China itself has been dealing out more than insults. Choy Yuk-ling made another documentary about the protest movement for Hong Kong public television. He’s been arrested. So has the venerable democracy advocate Martin Lee, 82 years old, who is now facing five years in jail after being convicted along with other senior members of the Hong Kong democracy movement. Lee and six other defendants were charged with leading a huge rally, which was, by the way, legally authorized and quite peaceful, but turned into a protest march when the crowd literally grew too large for its assigned space in Victoria Park. Convicted along with Lee was Jimmy Lai, a media magnate and the man behind the very popular Apple News newspaper. Lai is also awaiting trial on even more serious charges of breaching Hong Kong’s new security law.
To people with a history of support for political freedom and independence for Hong Kong, Martin Lee and Jimmy Lai and their fellow convicts Margaret Ng and Albert Ho are historic figures. But to the powerful younger cohort of resisters against the authoritarian crackdown directed from Beijing, there is a more relevant martyr, a 30-year-old former online video news reporter named Gwyneth Ho.
Mary Hui is a reporter for Quartz.com, the business news website, based in Hong Kong, where she covers geopolitics, tech, and business. She previously worked as a freelance journalist, covering political, socioeconomic, cultural, and urban issues.