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Boycott calls for ‘The Matrix’ following news of a concert featuring the Dalai Lama.

The Matrix Resurrections, the latest installment of The Matrix franchise, has prompted calls for social media boycotts after star Keanu Reeves confirmed he would participate in a benefit concert associated with the Dalai Lama. Chinese authorities view the Tibetan spiritual leader as a dangerous separatist. On Friday, a week after the movie was released in China, news broke that Reeves would be taking part in a virtual benefit concert for Tibet House US scheduled for March 3.

The Tibetan New Year celebration is held by Tibet House US (THUS), a New York nonprofit founded in 1987 by the Dalai Lama to preserve Tibetan culture. On its official website, THUS describes this event as a way to celebrate the Monlam Prayer Festival, which lasts from the fourth to the eleventh day of the first month in the Tibetan calendar, and which is been ‘prohibited by the Chinese Communists since 1959’.

In 1993, THUS organized a fundraising concert to ‘honor’ this tradition that’s important to ‘the Tibetan exile community worldwide’. It has featured a star-studded lineup of artists including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Dalai Lama, whose message was played at the start of last year’s event. This year’s 35th edition of the show includes Reeves as well as Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, and others selected by curator and artistic director Philip Glass.

Despite the fact that Reeves’ performance has not been revealed and it is unclear if the Dalai Lama will be a part of this year’s concert, the news sparked a backlash from Chinese internet users, who believe Reeves’ participation in the event indicates support for Tibet’s independence and admiration for the Dalai Lama.

In addition, the controversy has brought Reeves’ past work and beliefs into focus. In its article titled ‘The Tao of Keanu Reeves’, Rolling Stone noted that the actor has a long history of being connected to spirituality and philosophy. In Little Buddha, a 1993 drama film about a group of Tibetan monks seeking to resurrect their teacher, Reeves played Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha before he attained enlightenment. The Dalai Lama attended the premiere of the film in Paris, where he reportedly held the director’s hand throughout and called it ‘wonderful’.

Having fled Beijing’s rule after a failed uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama – a Nobel peace laureate – has long been viewed by Chinese officials as a separatist pushing for Tibet’s independence. Beijing has punished a long list of celebrities and politicians over the years, including former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Icelandic singer Bjork. These include their association with the Dalai Lama and perceived support for Tibetan autonomy and religious freedom.

The social media backlash against Reeves might further hurt The Matrix Resurrections’ box office performance, which already bombed on its opening weekend in China, earning only $7.5 million. Some Matrix fans said that the ‘disappointing’ news about Reeves made them want to pirate the movie instead of watching it in the theater.

In China, The Matrix Resurrections is far from the first Western film to draw nationalist ire due to political controversy surrounding its director or actors. In 2020, Nomadland, a drama film with a Beijing-born director who won the Golden Globe for Best Director, did not receive a theatrical release in China following the discovery of an old interview of hers, in which she described China as a ‘place where there are lies everywhere’. As a result of the discovery, the filmmaker and her award-winning movie were subsequently censored on Chinese social media.

Given that the controversy surrounding Reeves has been picked up by major news outlets such as Huanqiu.com (in Chinese), the online edition of the nationalist publication Global Times, the backlash may only become more intense and toxic in the coming months. However, Reeves can redeem himself if he wishes to: Last year, John Cena proved that he could put such controversies to rest with a groveling apology and a declaration of love for China.


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