By The Associated Press on January 29, 2024.
HONG KONG (AP) – Nicole Kidman’s latest project is set in Hong Kong, but people who live there are blocked from seeing it, prompting speculation about censorship in a city where civil liberties are shrinking fast.
The first two episodes of “Expats,” a six-episode drama about expat women, were released on Amazon Prime on Jan. 26. But when viewers in Hong Kong try to watch it, they instead get a message saying that “this video is currently unavailable to watch in your location.”
The city has hardened its controls over political speech after 2019 anti-government protests rocked the city.
In 2020, China passed a National Security Law that criminalized political activities, such as protesting for independence. Since then, hundreds of activists have been arrested or driven into exile, while opposition-leaning media have been forced out of business.
The first episode of “Expats” includes a brief scene in which people at a rally chant in Cantonese “I want real general elections.” The trailer for the show also features a crowd holding umbrellas, a reference to the 2014 Umbrella Movement, when protesters demanded the right to choose the city’s Chief Executive.
Previously, the Walt Disney Co. removed an episode of the cartoon series The Simpsons that included a reference to “forced labor camps” in China from its Disney Plus streaming service in Hong Kong. In both cases, it’s not clear whether authorities were involved in the decision to pull the content or companies acted on their own.
In June 2021, the city’s government changed the Film Censorship Ordinance to give them the power to remove films which include “portrayal, depiction or treatment of any act or activity which may amount to an offense endangering national security.”
Representatives of Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kidman’s role in the series prompted controversy in 2021, during the height of the pandemic, when the government gave her permission to skip a mandatory quarantine when she came to Hong Kong to film the series, according to local media outlet HK01.
On Tuesday, the Hong Kong government announced plans to enact a local version of the 2020 National Security Law.