Hong Kong action film star Donnie Yen’s invitation to present an award at this year’s Oscars has sparked controversy over his support for the Chinese Communist Party, with an online petition calling for his invitation to be rescinded attracting tens of thousands of signatures.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 31,000 people had signed the petition. It was created on Saturday by “a group of people from Hong Kong” to demand the Oscar Committee remove Yen from the host list of the 95th Academy Awards, which will be held on March 13.

Donnie Yen Oscar Petition John Wick 2
Donnie Yen at the set of John Wick 4. Photo: Donnie Yen’s Facebook

In a letter attached to the petition, Yen was called “a supporter of the Chinese Communist regime” who “has made several remarks in support of the Chinese government’s policies, including supporting the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong and accusing Hong Kong protesters of being rioters.” 

The letter said Yen’s remarks violated “the spirit of freedom of speech” and denied Hongkongers’ rights to fight for freedom and democracy.

“If the Oscars Committee continues to invite such a person as a guest presenter, it will damage the image and reputation of the film industry and cause serious harm to human rights and moral values,” the letter reads.

Donnie Yen Oscar Petition
Photo: screenshot.

In a recent interview, Yen, who starred alongside Keanu Reeves in the latest John Wick movie, told a GQ reporter that Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill unrest in 2019 were not protests. “It was a riot,” he said.

Protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment. Demonstrators demanded an independent probe into police conduct, amnesty for those arrested and a halt to the characterisation of protests as “riots.” 

Saying that he did not wish to get political, Yen added that he expected some people would be upset by his stance, “but I’m speaking from my own experience.”

He said that China’s progress in modernisation stunned him, but international media was not fair to China: “The BBC, CNN, they never talk about that. They never mention the true side of it. But I’m there, you know?”

Donnie Yen Oscar Petition Xi Jin-ping
A screenshot from a social media post showing Donnie Yen meeting Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Photo: Donnie Yen’s Facebook.

Yen was born in Guangzhou, in mainland China, and spent part of his childhood in Hong Kong, later becoming one of the city’s best known action stars. In 2017, he gave up his US citizenship and reportedly said he was “100 per cent Chinese.”

The 2019 movie Ip Man 4, starring Yen, was boycotted by some Hongkongers over the pro-Beijing stance of its producer Raymond Wong and stars Yen and Danny Chan.

Yen was also cast in Disney’s live-action remake of its animated movie Mulan, released in 2020, which was at the centre of another boycott after the lead Liu Yi-fei expressed her support for Hong Kong police during the 2019 protests and unrest.

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Lea Mok is a multimedia reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously contributed to StandNews, The Initium, MingPao and others. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.