Public screenings of a slasher film featuring Winnie the Pooh were abruptly canceled in Hong Kong on Tuesday, sparking discussions about increased censorship in the city.
Film distributor VII Pillars Entertainment announced on Facebook that the release of “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” on Thursday had been canceled with “great regret” in Hong Kong and neighboring Macau.
In an email response to the Associated Press, the distributor said it was notified by theaters that they couldn’t show the film as scheduled, but it didn’t know why. The theater chains involved did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
For many residents, the Winnie the Pooh character is a playful mockery of China’s President Xi Jinping, and Chinese censors have in the past briefly banned searches for the bear on social media in the country. In 2018, the film “Christopher Robin”, which also featured Winnie the Pooh, was denied its release in China.
The film that is projected in Hong Kong has generated concern on social networks about the reduction of freedoms in the territory.
The film was initially scheduled to be shown in about 30 theaters in Hong Kong, VII Pillars Entertainment wrote last week.
The Office of Motion Pictures, Newspapers and Articles Administration said it had approved the film and local theaters’ arrangements for showing approved films “are business decisions of the theaters in question.” He declined to comment on such arrangements.
A screening initially scheduled for Tuesday night at a cinema was canceled for “technical reasons,” the organizer said on Instagram.
Kenny Ng, a professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University film academy, declined to speculate on the reason for the cancellation, but suggested that the mechanism for silencing critics appeared to be resorting to business decisions.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise that it would maintain its Western-style freedoms. But China imposed a national security law after massive pro-democracy protests in 2019, silencing or jailing many dissidents.
In 2021, the government tightened the guidelines and empowered censors to ban movies believed to have broken the general law.
Ng said the city has seen more cases of censorship in the past two years, mostly targeting non-commercial films such as independent shorts.
“When there is a red line, there are more taboos,” he said.