When rumours of a live-action adaptation of Disney’s only East Asian princess, “Mulan”, first surfaced, Asians around the world were beyond thrilled. You see, Mulan is not just Mulan the princess. The significance of Mulan, especially to people (like Asians, for example) who are in the know, runs deeper than that.
Mulan (real name Fa Mulan, or Hua Mulan) is also a legendary woman warrior from the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589) of China. Known for being skilled in martial arts such as kung fu and her sword, she fought for 12 years and gained high merit, but she refused any reward and retired to her hometown instead.
The epitome of women empowerment, Mulan has been featured in various Chinese ballads, poems, folklore, and later films, television shows, as well as modern literature. In 1998, Disney produced an animated musical action-comedy-drama film based on the Chinese legend. It was was well received by critics and the public, grossing USD304 million, earning Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and winning several Annie Awards including “Best Animated Feature”.
Early last year, it was announced that a live-action adaptation of “Mulan” was in the works. Last week, Disney confirmed a release date – the movie is scheduled to hit theatres on 2nd November 2018. Along with the news came the rumours that the live-action film will cast a white male lead, based on a report from an anonymously-penned open letter posted on Angry Asian Man.
The writer claimed that the script for the live-action project changes both the story and overall messaging of the 1998 animated film.
“The man is a 30-something European trader who initially cares only for the pleasure of women and money. The only reason why he and his entourage decide to help the Chinese Imperial Army is because he sets eyes on Mulan. That’s right. Our white savior has come to the aid of Ancient China due to a classic case of Yellow Fever. In this script written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, more than half of its pages are dedicated to this merchant who develops a mutual attraction with Mulan and fights to protect her in the ensuing battles. To top it all off, this man gets the honour of defeating the primary enemy of China, not Mulan. Way to steal a girl’s thunder,” the writer wrote.
This, of course, sparked an outrage from Asian/Mulan/female fans of the movie, who took to Twitter to protest against the whitewashing of the original male character (Captain Li Shang) and the extremely unsettling, potentially sexist “tweak” in the storyline which will inevitably make Mulan the secondary character.
Proper representation is more important than ever. This story is important to millions around the world. Can we just #MakeMulanRight
— Harry Shum Jr (@HarryShumJr) October 11, 2016
Mulan is one of my favorite Disney movies, but no way I'm watching a verison that centers a white dude. no sir. #MakeMulanRight
— This is the voicemail for Rebekah Weatherspoon (@RdotSpoon) October 10, 2016
Even in the original Disney film, Mulan and Captain Li Shang’s relationship was a mere subplot. The focus was on Mulan and her coming-of-age, with emphasis on her bravery and strength that ultimately saves China.
So, our opinion? No, Disney, you don’t get to destroy our childhood this way. Let us repeat once more that Mulan is a legendary woman warrior who even has a crater on Venus named after her. She does not need no “30-something European trader” to “protect” her.
We want our Mulan to be the lead character. We want Captain Li Shang, not a whitewashed male lead. We want a full Chinese cast. And while you’re at it (making Mulan right), don’t forget to include Mushu in the film too.
— ???? (@s8nchi1d) October 10, 2016
Disney has yet to officially respond to the above pandemonium, but if the said spec script is indeed legit, we say, “Dishonour on your cow”, Hollywood.
UPDATE (13th October 2016, 9am):
The studios have heard us loud and clear. According to a source close to the project, the live-action adaptation of “Mulan” will feature an Asian love interest.
“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 source was quoted as saying, adding that they will be holding “global casting search” to find a Chinese actress to play Mulan.
Disney has also hired new writers, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Jurrasic World), to work on Mulan.
That’s what we’re talking about :)