China's official media plans to boycott the Hong Kong Film Awards ceremony in April, apparently because the politically-charged movie “10 Years” is nominated for best picture.
Chinese living on the other side of the border from the former British colony won't be able to watch the ceremony’s telecast as state broadcaster CCTV and online content behemoth Tencent announced their decisions to refuse to air the show.
The movie’s co-director Ng Ka-leung told RFA’s Chinese Service: "There were probably a lot of commercial and political factors taken into consideration in the decision by CCTV and Tencent not to broadcast the awards ceremony.”
Ng said he thought the decision was a mistake and expressed disappointment that many people will be unable to see the show.
"I think it's a matter of great regret that an entire group of people will miss the awards ceremony," Ng said. "They will also miss out on the opportunity to use the film as a medium of cultural exchange."
“Ten Years” is divided into five short films, depicting a different sort of bleak future for Hong Kong in the year 2025. One depicts Mao-style "youth guards" who police the use of words like "local" as the city's lingua franca Cantonese is being phased out. In another, a citizen self-immolates as a final act of protest.
Self-immolation has been used as a form of protest by more than 100 Tibetans since February 2009 to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan areas and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, while the directors previously told RFA that the film uses Cantonese as a bellwether for the health of Hong Kong's political identity and the traditional freedoms crucial to the film's plot.
A homegrown smash gets quashed
In spite of a minuscule budget of around H.K.$500,000 (U.S.$64,400), “10 Years” proved a box office smash in the city, wining critical praise as one of the most important films to come out of Hong Kong.
The movie was featured at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival in November 2015 before going on to net more than five million ticket sales on general release in the city, drawing more Hong Kong movie goers to the box office than "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
However, media controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party attacked the film, calling it a "thought virus" that will spread fear and loathing in the city where many think Beijing is putting pressure on their traditional way of life.
While the “10 Years” is a hit, Hong Kong cinema operators quietly dropped it after state media criticized the film.
“10 years” was released just as Beijing stepped up its efforts to promote "patriotic education" in schools across the country, as well as in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and in overseas universities where Chinese students study.
Tencent.com told the organizers of the film awards show that it was refusing to carry the ceremony, which is scheduled for April 3, according to the Apple Daily newspaper.
China Central Television (CCTV), which owns the broadcasting rights in the mainland, made a similar announcement.
Calls to the State Administration of Press & Publications, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPFRT) went unanswered on Monday.
Decision a "disgrace"
However, the Hong Kong Economic Journal quoted Hong Kong Film Awards organizer Derek Yee as confirming the reports.
According to Yee, Tencent was banned from broadcasting the awards by the country's Internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China.
Hong Kong political commentator Wu Yisan called the decision to boycott the awards show "disgraceful."
"It's in their interest to broadcast it, not to ban it," Wu said. "There are no benefits to this decision. It will just cause a backlash among the public, who will decide they want to see it because the government doesn't want them to."
Wu said Beijing should trust the Chinese public to make up their own minds.
"Coercively monopolizing the flow of information by force doesn't benefit anyone," Wu said. "Just let them see it for themselves, and then they can decide for themselves."
Although many of the movie’s themes resonated with the 2014 pro-democracy "Umbrella Movement," scriptwriter Jevons Au first penned the outline for the film in 2009, as he was considering what possible futures could await Hong Kong in the face of Beijing's reluctance to countenance fully democratic elections and its decision to extend "patriotic education.”
Pro-Beijing commentators have also linked the film to pro-independence sentiment, although Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy and the maintenance of a separate legal jurisdiction in the 1997 handover from British rule.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Taiwan's equivalent awards ceremony, the Golden Horse Awards, said organizers are still in talks with mainland entities to see if their awards ceremony can be broadcast across the Taiwan Strait.
"We are trying to sell the broadcasting rights to our awards ceremony around the world," the spokeswoman, surnamed Lu, told RFA. "As for mainland China, we have been talking to them about this for a while now."
Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.