“Winnie the Pooh” horror movie axed under shadow of self-censorship

A screening of the British horror movie “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” was cancelled after cinemas in Hong Kong collectively declined to show it, according to its distributor. One of the organisers of the screening cited “technical” reasons for the cancellation. The director of the movie commented that “The cinemas agreed to show it, then all independently [came] to the same decision overnight. It won’t be a coincidence … The film has shown in over 4,000 cinema screens worldwide. [Those] in Hong Kong are the only ones with such issues”.

Chinese censors have consistently targeted “Winnie the Pooh” due to the popularity of memes that compare the bumbling bear to President Xi Jinping. The comparisons began in 2013 when Xi met US President Barack Obama and netizens seized on their likeness to Pooh and Tigger.

The film had received a certificate of approval from Hong Kong’s film censorship office, making the last-minute cancellation even more peculiar.

Similar “technical problems” have, however, been a convenient excuse to stifle events across different sectors of Hong Kong society which risk incurring the displeasure of Beijing. An independent “Hongkongers’ Book Fair” was called off after the landlord accused the organisers of breaching the tenancy agreement’s ban on sub-letting. The opposition Democratic Party was forced to cancel its annual spring dinner after the venue claimed that there was a gas metre failure. Cantopop singer and opposition supporter Anthony Wong Yiu-ming had to abandon his upcoming concert after the venue cancelled his booking without reason.

An obvious trend of self-censorship can be seen by connecting the dots of all these events. Under the chilling NSL, the constantly moving red line has been instilled in people’s minds, and often restricts citizens’ speech and actions  even without the need for formal prohibitions.

(This story originally appeared in the March-April 2023 edition of our newsletter).

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