A Look At The Mulan Controversy

So, a few people have been asking me about my feelings about the #MakeMulanRight campaign, so I thought I'd jot them down here. For those of you who don't know what the campaign is about, there was reporting that a spec script was leaked for Disney's upcoming live action adaptation of Mulan. The spec script reportedly featured a white love interest who, according to a letter from somebody posting on the Angry Asian Man blog as ConcernedForMulan, "gets the honor of defeating the primary of China, not Mulan."

Prior to this, as soon as Disney announced the 2018 release date for the live action Mulan adaptation, a petition was put together to urge Disney to not whitewash the film. Being an Asian American, I have been very aware of and sensitive to Hollywood's tacit practice of "yellow face" (casting white actors in traditionally Asian roles). I was concerned.

That said, I didn't want to just assume that Disney would white wash a film just because its a major corporation and Hollywood studio. Most of the cast in the animated version is of Asian descent (Eddie Murphy's Mushu. June Foray's Grandmother Fa and Harvey Fierstein's Yao are the major characters who are not). Also, it is not unprecedented that Disney produce a movie without white people in it. The recent Queen of Katwe is a good example which only featured people of African descent. And Disney owned television network ABC has several Asian American characters on it, including two sitcoms revolving aroudn two Asian American families (Fresh Off The Boat and Dr. Ken). At the same time, Disney owned Marvel Studios cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who, in the comics, is Asian, in the upcoming Doctor Strange movie. So, it is also not out of the question to see white washing.

But, then, the leaked spec script came out and I couldn't help but be discouraged. It didn't even make sense to me because the animated film, while still a departure from the original 6th century legend, still placed Mulan as the one and only hero. Li Shang and Ling, Yao and Chien-Po might have helped, but she was the one who ultimately saves China.

For those not familiar with the legend, Disney's 1998 animated Mulan follows the basic conceits of The Ballad of Mulan. Mulan goes to take her ailing father's place in the army attacking invaders to China. She serves for twelve years and, instead of taking an official post, decides to go back home and return to her old life. Her old fighting mates then realize that they had been fighting along side a woman. Whichever way you look at it, Mulan is the hero of her own story. So, the idea of changing it to a European Trader being the one to save China with Mulan's help seemed insane and, frankly, idiotic.

Thankfully, Disney has since "clarified" its plans for Mulan. According to Vulture, an unnamed source at Disney has confirmed "The spec script was a jumping-off point for a new take on the story that draws from both the literary ballad of Mulan and Disney’s 1998 animated film. Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story, and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese." The new script will be written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Jurrasic World).

Its hard to say if Disney's course correction was a result of the petition or whether it was always planned this way, although it does raise an eyebrow that it would purchase a spec script featuring a European trader as the hero of a Chinese legend.

Either way, I am glad they are pledging to feature heroes of Chinese descent. As Ming-Na Wen, the voice of Mulan in the animated version, tweeted:


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