Hong Kong activists fight for change in Netflix doco

August 4, 2017
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong.

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Directed by Joe Piscatella
Starring: Joshua Wong, Oscar Lai and Agnes Chow
Now showing on Netflix

In Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, director Joe Piscatella depicts Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and his comrades' struggles from 2011-16 against Chinese government attempts to impose control on the former British colony.

When Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, it was agreed that China would maintain a policy of “one country, two systems”: Beijing would retain sovereignty, but Hong Kong would retain a degree of political and economic autonomy until 2047.

However, the central government in Beijing has begun eroding political freedoms in Hong Kong.

In 2011, in response to the Chinese regime’s attempts to impose a mandatory national curriculum policy that whitewashed the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of Chinese protesters, Wong and other students formed the Scholarism movement. Through protests in 2011-12, they forced Beijing to back down.

In 2014, in response to China refusing to allow Hong Kong citizens to elect their own representatives to the Legislative Council, Scholarism joined the Occupy-inspired Umbrella movement — so called because of its yellow umbrella symbol.

In September 2014, crowds of up to 100,000 hit the streets in a wave of protests that culminated in a 79-day occupation of the city state’s central financial district.  In scenes that gave the moment its name, protesters’ umbrellas were held aloft to ward off police tear gas attacks.

However, demoralisation grew as the crowds fell away. Even a five-day hunger strike by Wong couldn’t prevent defeat, with the movement unable to achieve its demands.

In March last year, Wong and the other activists decided to dissolve Scholarism and formed the centre-left political party Demosisto, based on the principles of autonomy and self-determination, to run for the Legislative Council. Despite the difficulties it faced, Demosisto succeeded in getting its 23-year-old chairperson Nathan Law elected, the youngest candidate to be elected in Hong Kong’s history.

However, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong faces increasing crackdowns from the Chinese government. Wong and other protesters have been jailed several times under Hong Kong’s unlawful assembly laws.

Since the Umbrella movement protests in 2014 the media, judiciary and universities have come under ever greater pressure from Beijing. Most chillingly, in late 2015 five booksellers known for selling provocative works on China’s leaders vanished. They resurfaced on the Chinese mainland, in custody, charged with book smuggling.

Law has also faced attempts by the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government to disqualify him from office for straying from his swearing-in oath.

Despite these difficulties, Wong and his comrades continue to struggle for democracy and Hong Kong’s self-determination around issues such as “one person, one vote”.

In the film, Wong says: “What I hope is that politics shouldn’t be dominated by the pro-Chinese elite; it should be related to everyone’s daily life.”

Joshua: Teenager vs Superpower is worth seeing because it shows how a group of ordinary people such as Wong can have a huge impact against great odds.

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