A petition calling for the removal of martial arts star Donnie Yen as a presenter at this year’s Oscar ceremony due to his connections to China’s ruling Communist Party has garnered tens of thousands of signatures.
The 59-year-old actor, best known for his role in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ and the hugely popular ‘Ip Man’ franchise, has long been a controversial figure among sections within his native Hong Kong, owing to his apparent criticism of the city’s pro-democracy movement.
Describing Yen as a “supporter of the Chinese Communist regime,” the online petition points to several statements it claims ought to disqualify Yen from involvement in the 95th Academy Awards, which will be held on March 13.
One example listed was a profile published last week in GQ, in which Yen discussed the large and occasionally violent pro-democracy demonstrations that gripped Hong Kong throughout 2019.
“It wasn’t a protest, okay, it was a riot,” Yen told GQ of the demonstrations, which were ultimately suppressed by mass arrests and the introduction of a sweeping national security law by Beijing.
Hong Kong’s government and police, as well as authorities and state media in mainland China, also refer to the demonstrations as “riots,” a phrase pro-democracy supporters reject.
The petition claims Yen’s GQ remarks “not only violate the spirit of freedom of speech but also deny the rights of the people of Hong Kong to fight for their freedom and democracy.”
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied accusations the national security law has stifled political opposition and criminalized dissent. Instead, it says the law has restored stability to the city after the tumult of the 2019 demonstrations.
The petition was created Saturday by “a group of people from Hong Kong,” according to the details provided, and has since gained more than 84,000 signatures.
“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 petition reads.
Last weekend, Yen was seen in attendance at a key Communist Party meeting in Beijing as part of an advisory body on arts and culture.
Speaking to press at the event, Yen said more Chinese action movies were needed to “become the pride of China” and “tell the story of China,” according to state-run Global Times.
The Oscars has not publicly commented on the petition. CNN has reached out to the Oscars for comment.
When contacted by CNN, Yen’s representative declined to provide a statement.
It’s not the first time Yen has attracted controversy among pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong. He was previously criticized after performing next to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2017, an event Yen called a “great honor,” and for celebrating Hong Kong’s return “to motherland China” in 2020 on the anniversary of the city’s handover.
These incidents prompted many in Hong Kong to call for the boycotts of his recent films – “Ip Man 4” in 2019, and “Mulan” in 2020.
Yen seemed to acknowledge his critics in the GQ interview, saying: “A lot of people might not be happy for what I’m saying, but I’m speaking from my own experience.”
He is set to present the Oscars ceremony alongside other prominent actors and performers including Riz Ahmed, Emily Blunt, Ariana DeBose, Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson.