“I Wanna See a Movie” Goes Viral as COVID Lockdown Protest Slogan in China

Various chants, slogans and euphemisms have enjoyed brief viral moments in China in recent days, as grassroots protests spread to cities around the country, reflecting growing public anger over the grinding reality of life under Beijing’s strict Covid controls. But one slogan, in particular, seems to have caught the attention of China’s beleaguered movie industry.

A video showing protestors in Shanghai chanting, “I wanna see a movie!” was widely shared on WeChat among Chinese film fans and industry professionals over the weekend. The statement appears to be a reflection of one of the many everyday privileges that some in China feel they have lost as the third year of the pandemic wears on, with no end to Beijing’s Covid-zero policy in sight.

“Everyone was forced to give a final roar: I wanna see a movie!” wrote the head of one of China’s major theater chains on Wechat Monday, in a post including the protest video.

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Numerous other prominent Chinese film executives shared the video among their followers, along with the “crying” emoji or by simply restating the slogan: “I wanna see a movie!”

China’s theatrical film market has withered this year under Beijing’s zero-Covid policy and increased censorship control. As of Monday, total ticket sales revenue in the country was down 36 percent compared to last year, and more than 50 percent less than the pre-pandemic year of 2019, according to data from Artisan Gateway.

A majority of cinemas in China remain open, but with Covid infection rates climbing in major cities like Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chongqing — and onerous PCR testing required to access public venues in most major provinces — freedom of movement and consumption feels far from assured among much of the Chinese population.

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Civilian frustrations have found a similar outlet among Chinese viewers of the World Cup, who have lamented their growing sense of isolation while watching fans in the stands at the soccer tournament in Qatar celebrating without masks or social distancing. In response to viral comments asking why no one in Qatar seems to be wearing masks, Beijing media censors began replacing shots of the maskless crowds in Qatar to cut-aways of players and coaches.

China’s ongoing Covid inflection moment began in the aftermath of a fire in the city of Urumqi in western China, where at least 10 people died. Locals and online onlookers suspected that lockdown measures had slowed the rescue effort, directly contributing to the deaths. The incident has grown into a rare, nationwide outpouring of discontent with the ruling Communist Party and its late-stage handling of the pandemic, with the so-called Covid-zero policy continuing to save lives but increasingly battering the country’s economy and civilians’ sense of freedom and wellbeing.

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