China cancels Keanu Reeves

Actor’s movies disappear from streaming services after he appears at Tibet benefit concert

Actor Keanu Reeves gestures during the Canadian premiere of The Matrix: Resurrections in his former hometown of Toronto, on Dec 16. (Reuters Photo)

Chinese streaming platforms including Tencent Video and iQiyi have taken down films and video content starring actor Keanu Reeves after he participated in a Tibet-related concert.

Checks by Reuters showed that the Canadian star’s acclaimed works, the Matrix and John Wick franchises, as well as Speed, were among the films that have been removed. Reuters could not determine when the films were taken down.

The Los Angeles Times, which first reported the content removal on Thursday, said at least 19 of his movies were pulled from Tencent Video.

While content related to the Matrix films and some of Reeves’s other work were still searchable on WeChat, China’s ubiquitous messaging service, searches for his English name and its Chinese translation yielded no results.

iQiyi and Tencent Holdings, the parent company that owns Tencent Video and WeChat, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A representative for Reeves was not immediately available for comment.

In late January, Reeves received heavy criticism from Chinese social media users, some of whom called for a boycott of his work in China, after it emerged that he planned to appear in a March 3 concert organised by Tibet House US, a New York-based non-profit organisation founded at the request of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism.

Many online commenters vowed to boycott The Matrix: Resurrections, which opened in China on Jan 14. The blockbuster starring Reeves remained in theatres, however, and March 3 also came and went with no apparent consequences for the actor.

Reeves participated in the Tibet House concert, which was held virtually due to restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19, prompting more criticism online.

This year’s 35th Tibet House concert, with classical music luminary Philip Glass serving as artistic director, featured performances by Glass, Reeves, Cyndi Lauper, Trey Anastasio, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Jason Isbell, Angélique Kidjo, The Fiery Furnaces and many other artists.

Their music remains available to stream in China, where Glass’s works are still frequently performed on concert stages nationwide.

Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama, exiled in neighbouring India, of fomenting separatism in the Tibet region and instead recognises the current Panchen Lama, put in place by the Communist Party, as the highest religious figure in Tibet.

China has ruled the remote western region since 1951, after its People’s Liberation Army marched in and took control in what it calls a “peaceful liberation”.

Other high-profile Western figures that have been blocked from Chinese social media and video platforms after making comments criticising China’s actions in Tibet include former NBA player Enes Kanter who at the time played for the Boston Celtics.

Reeves has been a household name in China since the 1990s, achieving extra visibility due to his Chinese-Hawaiian roots.

There’s even a 2004 Cantopop hit by Hong Kong crooner Fiona Sit dedicated to pining after the mild-mannered Canadian: A Reply Letter from Keanu Reeves.

“Mr K, could you stop for just 18 seconds to read my letter?” the song goes. “If you agree that people need to dream, send me your autograph in the mail, just one!”