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Expats: Nicole Kidman show about Hong Kong not shown in city

Actress Nicole Kidman films a scene in a market in Hong Kong on August 23, 2021, from the Amazon Prime Video series titled Expats
The new Amazon Prime television series, featuring Nicole Kidman, centres around the lives of three American women

It's a show about the life of foreigners in Hong Kong - but has aired everywhere except in the city itself.

Expats - an Amazon Prime series starring Nicole Kidman - centres around the lives of three American women.

Set in 2014, it includes scenes from the "Umbrella Movement" - a city-wide protest calling for free elections in the city - that took place that year.

Protests have now all but disappeared from Hong Kong after Beijing cracked down using a controversial new law.

It is not clear whether the decision to not show the series comes from Hong Kong's authorities or Amazon Prime Video.

A government spokesman told the BBC they had "no comment on operational arrangement of individual businesses". The BBC has contacted Amazon for a response.

This is not the first controversy surrounding the show.

In 2021, when Ms Kidman arrived in Hong Kong for the shooting of Expats, the Australian star was suspected to have received special treatment to bypass the city's strict Covid-19 rules.

She was reportedly spotted out and about just two days after touching down - news that angered locals who needed to go through lengthy quarantine periods when returning from overseas - with some even needing to stay at temporary quarantine camps.

Local authorities said at the time that the restrictions were waived for the team "to carry out designated professional work".

While the show has received relatively positive reviews from critics, social media users in Hong Kong were bemused, pointing out the contrast between the treatment the show received - and the fact that it later could not be shown.

"The government deserves this portrayal after letting these celebrities into the city (with no quarantine) during Covid restrictions while locals had to pay for a hotel for three weeks if they came back from abroad," an Instagram user said.

"Filmed in HK... but can't be viewed in HK... the international city," another user commented with a laugh-crying emoji.

'Currently unavailable'

The six-part limited series, based on Janice YK Lee's best-selling novel The Expatriates and directed by Lulu Wang, released its first two episodes on Friday.

While the story focuses on how three women's lives intersect after a family tragedy, it also contains scenes from the Umbrella movement - with the first episode containing brief shots of protesters shouting "I want universal suffrage" in Cantonese. The trailer of the show also showed iconic scenes of demonstrators holding umbrellas during the protests.

While the show is listed as worldwide available on Amazon's website, Hong Kong viewers see a "currently unavailable" message when trying to access the episodes.

Umbrellas are opened as tens of thousands come to the main protest site one month after the Hong Kong police used tear gas to disperse protesters October 28, 2014 in Hong Kong
Demonstrators paralysed Hong Kong thoroughfares in 2014 when they demanded the full rights for the territory to pick its leaders.

Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony but then returned to China.

In 2019, protests kicked off in the territory over plans to allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China under certain circumstances. Clashes between police and activists became increasingly violent, with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs.

After months of pro-democracy protests, Beijing introduced the wide-ranging national security law, which introduces heavy penalties - up to life in prison - for offences including subversion and secession.

In 2021, Hong Kong also passed a law banning films deemed to violate China's national security interests - though the AFP news agency quoted Hong Kong's Commerce and Economic Development Bureau as saying that the city's film censorship laws do not apply to streaming services.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Front Row this month, filmmaker Lulu Wang mentioned how the team had trodden carefully on the political scenes of the show. "We shot most of the political stuff in Los Angeles, it's definitely challenging. You know there is a lot of questions of like 'Can you show this', 'What can you not'," says Wang. "We worked with legal teams to really guide us, because you have to do it responsibly also, and there's so many people who are working on it, who live in Hong Kong," she said.

"But it was very important to me to be able to show this particular moment in this year in Hong Kong very accurately."