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Nicole Kidman and Amazon Series ‘The Expats’ Get Quarantine Exemption From Image-Conscious Hong Kong Regime

Nicole Kidman
Courtesy AACTA

The Hong Kong government has confirmed it has given Nicole Kidman an exemption from the city’s strict quarantine procedures, while currently tightening inbound travel restrictions for ordinary residents.

Through her Blossom Films production company, Kidman is attached as an executive producer on “The Expats,” an Amazon Studios series directed by U.S.-based Chinese helmer Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”) that is currently shooting in the city. It hasn’t been confirmed whether Kidman will star in the show.

The actor arrived in Hong Kong from Sydney, Australia, via private plane on Aug. 12, according to media reports.

Hong Kong’s health controls include 21-day mandatory hotel quarantine for unvaccinated Hong Kong residents and 14-day quarantine for vaccinated residents and visitors from most other countries. Quarantine exemptions weren’t made for Hong Kong’s athletes returning from the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The government on Thursday said it can’t discuss individual cases, but confirmed that “the case in discussion has been granted permission to travel to Hong Kong with a quarantine exemption for the purpose of performing designated professional work.” The statement explaining the exemption discusses “filming, costume fittings, rehearsals and business meetings.”

It also notes that the decision to grant an exception to Kidman took into account “that it is conducive to maintaining the necessary operation and development of Hong Kong’s economy.”

On several days over the past month, Hong Kong has reported no new local cases of the disease. But pursuing a zero-COVID strategy and fearing a growing threat from imported Delta variant contamination, the city’s government reintroduced its strictest border controls just three days before Kidman’s arrival. Sydney is currently in lockdown as the city and the state of New South Wales endure their largest outbreak of COVID-19.

Local media have been piqued by the series and the special treatment for Kidman, who isn’t staying in a designated quarantine hotel. Media has published photos of the actor on set in the Sai Wan district and also reported her out shopping two days after her arrival.

When announcing the series in 2018, Amazon said it “weaves an addictive tapestry that follows a group of complex women and their lives as outsiders in Hong Kong. It’s a compelling exploration of the strength of these women as they persevere through struggles with marriage, career, parenting and unimaginable loss.”

It’s not yet clear how much of Hong Kong’s political situation the show may take into account. Nonetheless, some online commentators have been outraged by the series’ perceived white privilege and its focus on the other-worldly lives of wealthy foreigners at a time when Hong Kong’s politics, education and media are being remade under the mainland Chinese government in Beijing.

Public protests, which brought two million people onto the streets in 2019, have been silenced since the introduction of the draconian National Security Law a year ago. That has allowed the government to accelerate its dismantling of civil society. Trades unions have been disbanded, public broadcaster RTHK has been stripped of power and the leading pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily has been bankrupted.

“What the world needs at this juncture is a Prime Video series about the privileged lives of American expats in Hong Kong, with Nicole Kidman,” joked one online commentator, Matthew Booker, on Aug. 13.

Hong Kong’s mainstream media has since joined in on criticism of the series. Over the weekend, the leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, called the series “tone deaf” and noted that Janice Y. K. Lee, author of the novel from which the series is adapted, is the daughter of Korean immigrants and left Hong Kong for the U.S. with her family when she was 15.

The government is keen that Hong Kong continue to be portrayed as ‘Asia’s World City,’ an old advertising slogan; however, the reality is increasingly different. The city’s population dropped by 1.2% in the first six months of this year, fueled in part by a rising number of people emigrating. The American and Canadian governments have also infuriated the Hong Kong regime by warning companies that Hong Kong is no longer as business friendly as it was prior to the current crackdown.

“New old HK under NSL: while outspoken expats need to flee, expats not asking questions will have greater privileges than before; they need to showcase HK is still ‘international’ and ‘open’. Go East. Go to HK. a paradise for eating and sleeping,” said commentator Ho-fung Hung on Twitter.