While in China, on a promotional tour for Maleficent, Angelina Jolie sparked an international kerfuffle by referring to China and Taiwan as if they were separate countries. The controversial statement came up when Jolie was asked to name her favorite Chinese director; she identified Life of Pi director Ang Lee, who is Taiwanese-American.
“I am not sure if you consider Ang Lee Chinese, he’s Taiwanese, but he does many Chinese-language films with many Chinese artists and actors,” Jolie answered. “And I think his works and the actors in his films are the ones I am most familiar with and very fond of.”
Chinese social media has since reportedly blown up, with comments calling Jolie “traitorous” and a “deranged Taiwan independence supporter.” Some threatened to boycott her for, in the words of one user, “disrespecting Chinese sovereignty.” Meanwhile, Taiwanese internet users are said to be praising the actress, with one calling her a “brave and brilliant woman.”
Jolie’s Ang Lee statement doesn’t sound too extreme from an outsider’s perspective, but China’s relationship with Taiwan is a touchy subject. Although Taiwan calls itself the Republic of China, the region has been governed separately from mainland China since 1949. An active Taiwan independence movement still exists, which the Chinese government vehemently opposes. Though relationships have improved since 2008, the Taiwanese Strait is still considered a potential conflict zone.
It remains to be seen whether Jolie’s words will affect Maleficent’s international box office, of which China is a key part. Thus far, the movie has been doing well; according to the Wall Street Journal, it’s currently the second highest-grossing film in Taipei, after Edge of Tomorrow.