By Jessie Yeung, CNN
A petition calling for the removal of martial arts star Donnie Yen as a presenter at this year’s Oscars ceremony because of his connections to China’s ruling Communist Party has garnered tens of thousands of signatures.
The 59-year-old actor, best known for his role in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ and the hugely popular ‘Ip Man’ franchise, has long been a controversial figure across sectors within his native Hong Kong, due to his apparent criticism of the city’s pro-democracy movement.
Describing Yen as a “supporter of the Chinese communist regime,” the online petition points to several statements that it claims should disqualify Yen from participating in the 95th Academy Awards, which will take place on March 13.
One example listed was a profile posted last week in gqin which Yen discussed the large and occasionally violent pro-democracy demonstrations that gripped Hong Kong throughout 2019.
“It wasn’t a protest, okay, it was a riot,” Yen told GQ of the demonstrations, which were ultimately suppressed by mass arrests and Beijing’s introduction of a sweeping national security law.
The Hong Kong government and police, as well as authorities and state media in mainland China, are also referring to the demonstrations as “riots”, a phrase rejected by pro-democracy supporters.
The petition claims that Yen’s GQ comments “not only violate the spirit of free speech, but also deny the rights of the people of Hong Kong to fight for their freedom and democracy.”
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied accusations that the national security law has stifled political opposition and criminalized dissent. Instead, he says the law has restored stability to the city after the tumult of the 2019 demonstrations.
The petition, created on Saturday by “a group of people from Hong Kong,” according to the details provided, has since garnered more than 84,000 signatures.
“If the Oscar Committee continues to invite such a person as a guest presenter, it will damage the image and reputation of the film industry and cause serious harm to human rights and moral values,” the petition read.
Last weekend, the yen was seen in attendance at a key Communist Party meeting in Beijing as part of an advisory body on arts and culture.
Speaking to reporters at the event, Yen said more Chinese action movies were needed to “become the pride of China” and “tell the story of China,” according to the state-run Global Times.
The Oscars have not publicly commented on the petition. CNN has reached out to the Oscars for comment.
When contacted by CNN, Yen’s representative declined to provide a statement.
It is not the first time that the yen has sparked controversy among pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong. He was previously criticized for performing alongside Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2017, an event Yen called a “great honour”, and for celebrating Hong Kong’s return “to the Chinese motherland” in 2020 on the anniversary of the handover. from the city.
These incidents prompted Hong Kong critics to call for a boycott of his recent films: “Ip Man 4” in 2019 and “Mulan” in 2020.
Yen appeared to acknowledge her critics in the GQ interview, saying, “A lot of people might not be happy with what I say, but I speak from my own experience.”
He is set to host the Oscar ceremony along with other notable actors and performers including Riz Ahmed, Emily Blunt, Ariana DeBose, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dwayne Johnson.
The CNN Wire
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