Here’s a case where film marketers being incurably Western causes a big problem: Arrival released 12 posters depicting alien monoliths appearing across the world. One of them photoshopped a building from Shanghai into a Hong Kong skyline. Oops. Bigger oops was not thinking about the tense history between Hong Kong and China, of which Shanghai is the largest city. (Full disclosure: We identified the poster as being of Shanghai when we published it.)
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when the Handover transferred its sovereignty to China. There’s been a fair amount of tension between Hong Kong and mainland China, especially in recent years. The political unrest culminated recently in the proliferation of groups calling for independence from China. And then Arrival stepped right into that debate.
The tower in the righthand corner is the distinctive Oriental Pearl Tower, a TV tower in Shanghai. The rest of the poster is of Victoria Harbour, a name that pretty clearly gives it away as being in Hong Kong and not Shanghai.
The full poster, with the Oriental Pearl Tower circled
This has caused a pretty predictable backlash. Though it has since been taken down, if you wanted to see marketing gone horribly, horribly wrong, you could scroll through the 2700 — and rising — comments on the image on Facebook. You’d find it had been taken over by people proclaiming “#HongKongIsNotChina”. Commenter Cherry Ben took it even further than just the hashtag with, “Lets boycott this piece of shit. Putting the fucking tower in Vic. Harbour doesnt mean it represents China you fucking idiot. #Hongkongisnotchina”
Mostly, though, the comments were exactly what you’d expect. Some polite requests that the marketers do some research and respect other nations before doing things like this. Others making fun of them for making a stupid mistake. Some general dislike of the design of the tower. A fair bit of mocking the “Why are they here?” tagline, which seems especially ironic given this mistake. But mostly, comment after comment with just the hashtag.
Although the best response has to come from Horace Chin Wan-kan, a leader of the “Hong Kong Autonomy Movement” and who is running Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election. Here’s his response, as reported by Variety:
The movie adaptation of the sci-fi novel Arrival, which obtained the Nebula Award, [has] decent director Denis Villeneuve and actors Amy Adams [and] Jeremy Renner. However, everything is ruined by this improper poster.
The use of “decent” there is an especially strong burn.
Let this be a lesson to marketers and moviemakers everywhere: Sometimes your ignorance just makes you look dumb. Sometimes it’s a political nightmare.