Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, the new horror film based on A. A. Milne’s beloved bear, was pulled by cinemas in Hong Kong and Macau abruptly on Tuesday, just a day before the film’s official premiere there.
While there’s clear reason for the cancellation — and uncertainty as to who actually made the decision — many in the West are speculating whether it has to do with the film’s titular character, who has a complicated association with China’s president, Xi Jinping. In the 2010s, after memes of then-President Barack Obama and President Xi went viral, China censored key images of the character. Yet, Winnie the Pooh is not “banned” in the country: while there is still targeted censorship of certain portrayals, the bear appears on merchandise shelves and even has rides at Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland.
According to a statement from Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey’s distributor, Hong Kong-based VII Pillars Entertainment, the screening of the film was canceled because it “failed to meet the audience.” However, the distributor told the Associated Press that they were “notified by cinemas that they could not show the film as scheduled, but it didn’t know why.” Local cinemas have not yet commented on the situation.
“Hong Kong as of Friday had 30+ cinemas booked to show Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. They even did one screening. It went past censorship,” the film’s director, Rhys Frake-Waterfield, said in an email to Variety. “Then ‘suddenly’ over the last few days, something has happened which has resulted in multiple cinema chains simultaneously having to remove the showings from their cinemas, which is nothing to do with the film’s quality.”
Kevin Yeung, secretary of Hong Kong’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau, took to local media to report that the Film Censorship Authority had approved the film, which the Office of Film, Newspaper and Article Administration confirmed. Citing the film’s authorization by the local government, he said: “In the end, the film’s distributor decided not to show the film in Hong Kong for the time being. This is the distributor’s decision.”
All this comes as media becomes a contested battleground in the context of increasingly tense international relations. China has come under fire in recent years for censoring numerous films, such as Spider-Man: No Way Home and another Winnie the Pooh flick, 2018’s Christopher Robin, among many more. They have also edited certain films, like their odd alternative ending to Fight Club, in which Tyler Durden is thwarted by the police and receives “psychological treatment.”
Meanwhile, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey is out now in the United States and other markets, and has already earned $4.2 million against a $100,000 budget. Watch the trailer for it here.