Chinese model Ming Xi pulled out of a runway performance at the annual amfAR Gala Cannes on May 25 after amfAR published an Instagram post two days earlier noting that it would auction off a meeting with the Dalai Lama, the most prominent leader in Tibetan Buddhism. Held at the Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes, France, the event was touted on its press release as being "glamorous and unpredictable." But who could predict the swanky event would get this political?
The amfAR Gala Cannes, which is in its 24th year, is one of the most star-studded benefits on the philanthropic calendar (guests this year include Nicole Kidman, Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Chastain), and one of the most coveted tickets during the Cannes Film Festival. It is also capped by a live auction.
This year, there were two auction lots that caused a stir. The first was a five-day trek through the mountains of Dharamsala for a "rare opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama," who has been in exile since 1959 when China claimed sovereignty over historical Tibet. The second was a 2015 photograph by Chris Levine using a 3-D light technology made on the occasion of the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday.
"Ming Xi has been invited by Carine Roitfeld to attend the fashion show at the amfAR Gala at the Cannes Film Festival," read a post on Ming Xi's official Weibo account, which is run by a Chinese company that manages her business. "However, now due to certain special circumstances as shown in the picture below, Ming Xi has decided to cancel this event."
Attached to the Weibo post is a picture of the Dalai Lama as it appeared on the amfAR Instagram account along with a picture that showed all the models who were slated to be in the fashion show (which included her picture). The Weibo post also showed emoticons of a heart, the Chinese national flag, and a flexed arm.
Ming rose to international acclaim after walking the runway for the Givenchy Spring 2011 Haute Couture Collection. She modeled in Victoria's Secret fashion shows in 2013 and 2014 and was the brand ambassador for the international fashion label Sisley. She has appeared in luxury brand campaigns for Karl Lagerfeld, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors and appeared at the Met Gala with Kors in 2015.
The amfAR Gala Cannes has raised over 190 million for research in the fight against AIDS. The runway performance, titled “Golden Age of Hollywood Collection,” was curated by Roitfeld, the editor of CR Fashion Book. It promised one-of-a-kind looks from the world’s top fashion designers accessorized by Harry Winston, the presenting sponsor of the evening, along with Bold Films.
Commenters on Weibo debated the issue, some in support, others confused. "Even though it is a shame that I cannot see Ming Xi modelling this time," said a Weibo user called "Annabel Lan Hui, "I fully support her decision. I applaud her courage to say no this time."
Chinese social media is abuzz with rumors that other Chinese celebrities including juror Fan Bingbing and Victoria's Secret supermodel Liu Wen also decided to opt out of the auction, though these reports were not from official accounts.
The amfAR Instagram post itself stirred up much sentiment, with many disappointed users leaving sharp comments. "Tibetan separatist," wrote hebo1022, "Omg.....cannot believe what you have done...I refuse this," wrote chou009092. Others posted emoticons featuring angry faces or a hand with its thumb pointing down. One simply said, "no politics."
In the past, many Chinese celebrities have come out in support of the amfAR Gala Cannes. But this year, it seems, politics may have gotten in the way of the eventful evening.
We called the amfAR office in New York, but have thus far not received a comment.