NEW YORK (August 18, 2022) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) denounces the use of war-torn Syrian cities as locations for films sponsored by the Assad regime and its authoritarian allies. In recent years, several Iran- and Russia-sponsored films have exploited the devastation of Syrian cities, using them as movie sets and thus whitewashing the violence and abuses perpetrated by dictatorships. Notably, Home Operation, a new film co-produced by world-renowned action movie star Jackie Chan, began filming last month, and it glorifies Beijing’s evacuation of Chinese citizens from Yemen in 2015. The film, however, is not shot in Yemen but among the ruins of Hajar al-Aswad, Syria, where thousands have died at the hands of ISIS and the forces of the Assad regime.
“It is abhorrent to capitalize on displaced Syrians’ former homes by allowing their use as the cinematic backdrop for a blockbuster production. To add insult to injury, Home Operation propagandizes for an authoritarian regime seeking to be deemed heroic and benevolent in the foreign affairs arena,” said Michelle Gulino, Director of Legal & Programs at HRF. “This film is a prime example of how art and celebrity are used by authoritarian regimes to gain influence in the cultural and media space. It serves as a tool to whitewash, or ‘artswash,’ the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Assad regime, which is still profiteering from the horrors it has bestowed onto millions of civilians.”
The production company of Home Operation’s director, Song Yinxi, recently opened a new office in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and announced plans to use several other Syria locations to film. Home Operation was previously celebrated by the UAE ambassador to China as the first film project jointly launched by the Chinese and Emirati governments. The Chinese government has long weaponized Hollywood and the global film industry to shape public opinion, advance the Chinese Communist Party’s political agenda, and silence dissent.
Speaking in a video tweet, the Director of Humanitarian Affairs at the Syrian Emergency Task Force and a 2022 Oslo Freedom Forum speaker, Omar Alshogre, stated, “It is disappointing to realize that in a Chinese-Emirati cooperation, there is a film, among other places in Syria, being produced, led by Jackie Chan. It is a disappointment to see role models, people we have enjoyed watching on TV, being part of the normalization of the Assad regime in Syria. That should not happen; that should stop today.”
This is not the first time that Jackie Chan has knowingly amplified an authoritarian regime’s propaganda. For example, from as early as 2009, Chan has publicly supported the Chinese government’s media censorship policies and even expressed his desire to become a member of the Chinese Communist Party. More recently, Chan openly backed Beijing’s draconian national security law in Hong Kong.
HRF calls on Jackie Chan to stand against the ongoing effort to whitewash the Assad regime’s human rights abuses in Syria, to withhold his support for Home Operation, and to set an example for the international film industry.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
HRF’s Celebrities and Dictators is an advocacy program aimed at raising public awareness about human rights by spotlighting celebrities and high profile organizations who inadvertently support human rights abusers and authoritarians.
The Art in Protest program is HRF’s answer to the repression of creativity that authoritarian regimes impose. By promoting artists who embody the spirit of creativity and dissent, Art in Protest opens a dialogue about human rights and free expression, and aims to bring to a diverse audience the work of artists who are making an impact in the global struggle against authoritarianism. Art in Protest runs the Art in Protest Residency in partnership with Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. To support independent art projects by dissident artists, donate to Art in Protest today.