Amazon Prime39s Expats was filmed and filmed in Hong Kong

Amazon Prime's Expats was filmed and filmed in Hong Kong. But it's not shown there


Amazon Prime's new drama series Expats, starring Nicole Kidman, is not currently showing in Hong Kong, although it is set and partially filmed in the city.

The drama primarily revolves around Kidman's character Margaret, an American living in Hong Kong in 2014 when months of pro-democracy protests gripped the city – a topic the director says will be explored in an upcoming episode of the series.

Named for the umbrellas protesters used to shield themselves from police pepper spray, the Umbrella Movement caused Hong Kong's financial district to be paralyzed for 79 days in 2014 by protesters demanding universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Those calls were rebuffed by authorities, and a crackdown on dissent has transformed Hong Kong over the next decade – particularly since Beijing passed a sweeping national security law in 2020 after the city's renewed anti-government protests for nearly a year.

Critics say the national security law has wiped out opposition to the government and curtailed political freedoms in the once-open city. Hong Kong's government has repeatedly denied that the law suppresses freedoms, stressing that the law “restored stability” to the city after the 2019 protests.

In 2021, Hong Kong passed a film censorship law to “ensure national security,” a move that critics said would stifle creativity in the world-famous film industry and further restrict freedoms.

This year, Hong Kong also granted Oscar winner Kidman an exemption from its strict Covid-19 quarantine rules to film in the city. Four members of her crew were also exempted from the restrictions, Hong Kong officials said at the time.

But despite the Hollywood star's red carpet rollout and Amazon's announcement of Expats as a global release, the series is listed as “currently unavailable in your location” for Prime viewers in Hong Kong.

“There is concern that the site of the 2014 protests may have violated the 2020 national security law,” Yaqiu Wang, research director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at the US-based nonprofit Freedom House, told CNN.

“The crackdown on free speech is so harsh, and because of the vagueness of the law, many people censor themselves because no one knows where the line is.”

Bonde Sham and Ji-young Yoo also star in the series.

Amazon also has a responsibility to protect people living in Hong Kong who worked on the production, Wang added.

“When a company like (Amazon) is so worried, the fear of people involved in smaller productions becomes even greater,” she said. “I think it exacerbates the environment of self-censorship that is already very strict and pervasive in … Hong Kong's sectors where freedom of expression is concerned.”

Amazon declined to comment when contacted by CNN.

CNN has also reached out to the Hong Kong Commerce and Economic Development Bureau for comment.

In June 2023, Portal reported that since October 2021, scenes from at least 21 films and shorts have been cut or their release blocked by Hong Kong's Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Association (OFNAA).

“Expats” director Lulu Wang told BBC Radio 4 on January 22 that they “shot most of the political stuff in Los Angeles” and also used news footage to depict the 2014 protests.

“It was very important to me to be able to show this special moment in Hong Kong in great detail this year,” she said.

“It’s definitely challenging,” she added. “There are a lot of questions like, 'Can you show this?' What you can not?' We worked with legal teams to really guide us because you also have to do it responsibly and there are so many people working on it who live in Hong Kong.”