Documentary on Hong Kong singer-activist Denise Ho shunned by streaming platforms

Published (HKT): 2020.08.27 06:00

Major streaming platforms are reluctant to screen a documentary on Hong Kong pro-democracy singer Denise Ho, fearing that doing so would affect their business interests in China, according to the film’s director, Sue Williams.

The documentary, “Denise Ho: Becoming the Song,” follows the singer-activist, who has been an outspoken critic of China and last September testified before the United States Congress on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. The film took three years to complete and premiered in the U.S. in late June, just before Hong Kong’s national security law was enacted. 

As a result of the law, Williams said it was unlikely that the documentary would ever be shown in Hong Kong cinemas. 

Williams told Apple Daily in an interview that two major streaming platforms she reached out to rejected to stream the documentary. She did not wish to reveal which platforms were involved but said they have a lot of business interests in China.

Williams said the reluctance to stream the documentary was ironic, given that the film is about the survival of Ho’s career under pressure from China. Despite others being afraid of being linked to Ho, Williams said she was proud to stand with the activist.

Having spent much of the 1990s shooting documentaries in mainland China, Williams had long thought of Hong Kong as a “breathing spot,” where she could be free and not worry about being followed. Her experience with shooting her latest documentary, however, has shown how China’s political influence has spread overseas as the production faced various obstacles. Not only was Ho’s work visa denied by Malaysia, there were difficulties finding performance venues in the U.S., and friends and former colleagues refused to appear in the film. Williams said she had worried about not being able to tell Ho’s story fully and truthfully.

The documentary is currently only available for viewing on the U.S. online cinema platform Kino Marquee. Williams said she was also in talks with European and Asian film distribution companies and was looking to bring the documentary to Hong Kong via means other than public screening.

Ho told Apple Daily that it was disappointing that the documentary could not be shown in Hong Kong or even on foreign streaming platforms.

She added that it was shocking to see how much Hong Kong has changed since 2017, when they first started working on the film. Back then, major streaming platforms were still able and willing to shed light on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements through documentaries such as “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower,” Ho said.

Such drastic changes could come as a big surprise to foreign filmmakers, according to Ho. “They can finally feel the strength and effectiveness of China’s white terror,” she said.

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