Chloe Zhao, who is nominated for a best director Oscar. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/PHILLIP FARAONE
Chloe Zhao, who is nominated for a best director Oscar. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/PHILLIP FARAONE

Hong Kong — For the first time in more than half a century, Hong Kong movie-lovers won’t be able to watch the Oscars.

The city’s largest TV network won’t broadcast next month’s ceremony, for what it says are “purely commercial” reasons. The move comes after China asked media to play down the awards, following the nomination of a documentary on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and concern over the political views of best director contender Chloe Zhao.

Television Broadcasts (TVB) has broadcast the Academy Awards on its English-language channel every year since 1969, when musical Oliver! won best picture. Other local broadcasters including Now TV, Viu TV and Cable TV also don’t have the broadcast rights, the Standard newspaper reported on Monday.

It was reported earlier this month that the Communist Party’s propaganda department told all local media outlets to scrap live broadcasts of the Oscars and focus coverage on awards that aren’t seen as controversial, according to people familiar with the situation.

The awards, in Los Angeles on April 25, have stirred controversy in China amid rising nationalism. Do Not Split, which chronicles the 2019 demonstrations against China’s tightening grip over Hong Kong, was nominated for best short documentary.

Zhao, initially lauded in the Chinese press for being the first Asian woman to win the Golden Globe for best director earlier in March for Nomadland and vying to become just the second woman to win an Academy Award in the same category, drew fiery criticism among social media users for a 2013 interview in which she is said to have described China as “a place where there are lies everywhere”.

China is increasingly cracking down on freedom in Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests starting in mid-2019 angered Beijing, which saw the movement as a threat to its rule over the city. After imposing a sweeping national security law to stamp out dissent, China has approved an overhaul of the city’s election system to ensure it has the final say over political candidates.

The handling of the Oscars mirrors recent boycotts against major foreign brands such as H&M and Nike, which pledged not to use cotton from the Xinjiang region where China is accused of oppressing the Uighur minority group. In a months-old statement, H&M expressed concern about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang.


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