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Lulu Wang’s ‘Expat’ is set in Hong Kong but cannot be viewed there

Lulu Wang’s new series Expats featuring Nicole Kidman released the third of its six season one episodes on Prime Video Friday. The show was filmed in Hong Kong during the pandemic, but it is not available to Prime Video subscribers there, who received this message instead: “this video is currently unavailable to watch in your location.”

Coming off the success of her 2019 film The Farewell, Wang and Expats have garnered criticism for the show’s focus on a minority group of rich foreigners, according to Variety. Wang, who is a Chinese-born-American, also raised eyebrows for her social media posts through 2021 that did not recognize the protests in Hong Kong while shooting Expats there.

Wang said in an interview with HuffPost that she was initially hesitant to take on the Expats project following the whirlwind of success from The Farewell, however Kidman reassured Wang that she would have complete creative agency. 

Snubbing those who criticized her for lacking political sensitivity, Wang said she felt the responsibility to capture Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and chose to set the series in the summer and fall of 2014 during the Umbrella Movement, characterized by activists using umbrellas to protect themselves from police attacking them with pepper spray.

Lulu Wang at the Miami Film Festival wearing a white suit and wide brim hat
By Miami Film Festival via Wikipedia Creative Commons

“It was tricky, because I didn’t want it to be a backdrop per se, because for some people, it’s not just a backdrop; it’s their whole lives. And for my family, we left Beijing in 1989 during Tiananmen Square. So I saw a lot of parallels in the history of Hong Kong and in my own family history,” she told HuffPost. “And yet, at the same time, it’s also not a show about Hong Kong politics. We show the people of Hong Kong, and so we wanted to just show that no one is isolated from the context of the place and the time that they’re living in. We’re all informed, to some degree or another, by the time and place that we live in.”

With the Umbrella Movement as backdrop, it’s unsurprising that the show is now in a murky spot with government censorship in Hong Kong. So far, it has received poor reviews from outlets abroad. South China Morning News, the leading English newspaper in Hong Kong, said the series puts the government in an awkward position. 

The show also stars Kidman as Margaret, Brian Tee as Kidman’s husband Clarke, Sarayu Yao as Kidman’s confidante, Hillary and Ji-young Yoo as the babysitter.

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