Courtesy of Prime Video
Nicole Kidman stars in the new Amazon Prime show “Expats.”
The drama largely revolves around Kidman's character, Margaret, an American living in Hong Kong in 2014, when the city is gripped by months-long pro-democracy protests — a topic that is being addressed in an upcoming episode of the series, according to its director.
It is named after the umbrellas used by protesters to protect themselves from pepper spray used by police Parachute movement Hong Kong's financial district was frozen for 79 days in 2014 by protesters demanding universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Those calls have been rejected by the authorities, and a crackdown on dissent has transformed Hong Kong in the decade since — especially since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 after nearly a year of renewed anti-government protests that rocked the city.
Critics say the national security law has eliminated opposition to the government and curtailed the city's once-outspoken political freedoms. The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied that the legislation suppresses freedoms, insisting that the law “restored stability” to the city after the 2019 protests.
In 2021, Hong Kong passed a film censorship law to “protect national security,” a move critics said would limit creativity in the world-famous film industry and further curtail freedoms.
That year, Hong Kong also awarded an Oscar Kidman Exemption from strict coronavirus quarantine rules for filming in the city. Hong Kong officials said at the time that four crew members had also been granted exemption from restrictions.
But despite the red carpet being rolled out for the Hollywood star and Amazon announcing that “Expats” will be released globally, the series is listed as “currently not available to watch in your location” for key viewers in Hong Kong.
“There are concerns that the scene of the 2014 protests may have violated… the 2020 national security law,” Yaqiu Wang, director of research for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at the US-based non-profit Freedom House, told CNN.
“The crackdown is very severe on freedom of expression, and because of the ambiguity of the law, many people are self-censoring because no one knows where the line lies.”
Courtesy of Prime Video
Bonde Sham and Ji-young Yoo also star in the series.
Wang added that Amazon also had a responsibility to protect those living in Hong Kong who worked on the production.
“If a company like Amazon is that worried, the fear of people involved in smaller productions will be even more acute,” she said. “I think it exacerbates the self-censorship environment that is already very intense and pervasive within … Hong Kong industries involving freedom of expression.”
Amazon declined to comment when contacted by CNN.
CNN has also reached out to Hong Kong's Trade and Economic Development Office for comment.
As of June 2023, Reuters reported At least 21 films and short films have had their scenes cut or banned from release by the Hong Kong Film, Newspaper and Article Office (OFNAA) since October 2021.
“Expats” director Lulu Wang He told BBC Radio 4 On January 22, they “filmed mostly political material in Los Angeles,” and also used news footage to represent the 2014 protests.
“It was very important to me to be able to show this particular moment in this year in Hong Kong very precisely,” she said.
“It's definitely difficult,” she added. “There's a lot of questions like 'Can you show this?' “What can’t you do? We worked with legal teams to really guide us, because you have to do it responsibly as well, and there are a lot of people working on it, who live in Hong Kong.
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