Stephanie woke up to an email from Liz telling her to talk about “Mulan, in light of the leaked script with a white male lead,” and let me tell you, no fierce Asian lady wants to wake up that way.
[Liz: next time I’ll lead with a nice cat picture or something.]
I remember Disney’s animated Mulan, and my mother looking at the cover after we watched it. “That’s not really Hua Mulan,” she said, and put the case back down. “That’s not actually what happened.”
From a guest on Angry Asian Man today, who saw the original Mulan adaptation script:
A white merchant’s business brings him to the heart of a legendary Asian conflict — he unwittingly helps save the day while winning the heart of the Asian female. Am I describing the plotline of the Netflix series Marco Polo? No. I’m describing the spec script that Disney bought for its live-action feature film, The Legend of Mulan, which is projected for release in 2018.
Oh, good, another white saviour. Not like we’re not dealing with one of those right now, with Matt Damon saving us (Chinese us) from hordes on the other side of the Great Wall, which is…not…how it works…
He also seems pretty sick of us pointing it out, calling it ‘a bummer.’ You know what else is a bummer? When white people keep stealing our shit. It’s also a bummer when white people keep trying to save us from shit. We’re pretty great. We can save ourselves.
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.
But what I find equally troubling is the fact that Disney plans to cast a 16-17 year old established Chinese actress as Mulan, and will not be casting an Asian American.
Oh. Oh, she’s 17? Next to a 30-something white dude? That’s not skeevy as fuck.
Casting a Chinese actress as Mulan is a ploy to appeal to a Chinese market, which honestly will not be as enthusiastic as our American audience to see our retelling of a tale they know best. The animated film made $120 million in the U.S. and Canada combined, and completely flopped in Chinese markets because her character was so different from what the Chinese recognized. If this live-action film tries to cater to both the Chinese and American markets without understanding the cultural implications of its creative choices, this film will fall short of both. If the film splits focus from Mulan to a white male lead and is more interested in targeting a Chinese market with its casting, it will estrange its immensely devoted American audience.
Look, we here at No Award could care less about alienating an American audience, as we well know, but I take this point. AND ALSO there’s already an amazing Mulan live action movie, and it was amazing, and how will this version do any better in a Chinese market?
Coming on the heels of that, Vulture says that a new script is on its way, with an interesting original title and claims that there will be an ‘Asian’ lead, which is barely better, what with Mulan being a Chinese story.
But it IS better. Hollywood likes to make Asian women beautiful and lithe and sexy, and it likes to make us need saving. American movies make Asian men absent or weak or laughable, worthy of embarrassment. We don’t need that in our communities. If we’re going to see a westernised Asian-ness (which, as Asians residing in places like America and Australia, we are), we need to see one that doesn’t buy into this toxic racial sexual politics that gets imposed on us.
We get this in Australian media, too. So it’s not that I’m casting aspersions. When the only diasporic images we see are these ones, I guess we can shelve our anti-USAcentric agenda long enough to talk about how it impacts us.
Disney’s Mulan was never perfect. There was a talking dragon getting up to shit, and that cricket, and definitely some dubious jokes about men in women’s garb; and there was, of course, the way it never sat quite right with my mum.
But for a really long time, it was my favourite; names I was familiar with, traditions I knew. And as I got older, there was more for me to appreciate: that there were no white people in the story, and that Mulan did all the saving, in a way the other princesses never got to.
There’s a petition: Make Mulan Right
There’s a hashtag: #makemulanright
The excellent Shaun has a primer on white washing and white saviours
The best Mulan is obviously (OBVIOUSLY) 2009’s Mulan, starring Vicki Zhao as Mulan. You should watch it immediately and roll around in how excellent it is. There is a white dude, actually – Vitas, a Russian singer. He’s kind of evil? AS IT SHOULD BE.
[Liz: Look, at least it makes sense for a Russian to be hanging out in China, there was a lot of coming and going via Siberia, and also the occasional invasion and war.]
In the end, there are no romantic endings, because that’s never how Mulan should end.