This is Not Your Childhood Mulan
This is Not Your Childhood Mulan
Remember the 1998 Disney cartoon Mulan, which told the Chinese legend about a female warrior? You may remember having watched it as a kid; in my case, my children watched it. An old VHS copy may still be in storage somewhere in our family room. Mulan may have promoted female empowerment, but it still spoke of courage and loyalty to family. And then there was Mushu, the hilarious sidekick dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy.
But Disney’s new iteration of the story has darker twists to it — all rooted in Communist China.
The problems began last year when Liu Yifei, the actress who plays the lead character, expressed her support for Hong Kong police during democracy protests. Using China’s social media platform Weibo, Liu quoted a reporter for a state-run newspaper who was covering the protests:
“I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now.”
Liu then added her own commentary in English:
“What a shame for Hong Kong. I support the Hong Kong police, too.”
Needless to say, that didn’t go over well in Hong Kong. Then, in August of 2020, HK democracy activist Agnes Chow was arrested by police, prompting internet memes calling her the “real Mulan.”
But the controversy over the new Mulan didn’t end with Liu Yifei. Recently some sharp-eyed viewers of the streaming film noticed that the film’s end credits gave thanks to eight government entities in Xinjiang for allowing Disney to film in that region. If that name rings a bell with you, it should: Xinjiang is the home of Uighar Muslims, whom the Chinese Communist government have been imprisoning and subjecting to human rights violations.
This isn’t Disney’s first time for sucking up to Communist China, either. In 1997, Disney released Kundun, which told the story of the current Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese have labeled a “traitor” and “separatist,” since he is from Tibet. To punish Disney, the CCP initially forbid the cartoon Mulan from release in China the following year.
But Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner was on the case. Visiting China in 1998, he reportedly told CCP leaders:
“The bad news is that the film was made; the good news is that nobody watched it…Here I want to apologize, and in the future, we should prevent this sort of thing, which insults our friends, from happening.”
Shame on Disney. As Gordon Chang tweeted concerning Disney and Mulan:
What is the lesson of #Mulan? We learned our efforts to change #China have instead changed us. #Disney, which once prided itself on its wholesomeness, has become complicit in crimes against humanity and therefore immoral. #boycottmulan
— Gordon G. Chang (@GordonGChang) September 9, 2020
Since the late 1990s, neither Disney nor any other major Hollywood studio has released films like Kundun or Columbia Picture’s 1997 Seven Years in Tibet. Marvel Studios has also bent the knee to Beijing; in 2016, the studio cast Tilda Swinton, a very white British actress, to play the “Ancient One” in Doctor Strange. That character originally came from Tibet, according to the story. Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill at first explained that the Ancient One was a “racist stereotype,” but later admitted that there was the risk of. . .
“. . .the Chinese government going, ‘Hey, you know one of the biggest film-watching countries in the world? We’re not going to show your movie because you decided to get political.’ ”
Money walks and cash talks, don’t they?
And now, even though Hollywood is requiring intersectional standards in order for a film to compete for an Oscar, they’ve been increasing the numbers of light-skinned actors in order to appeal to China. Chinese people have a preference for lighter skin color, and the entertainment industry is complying. A study by Johns Hopkins University found that films made after 2012 had an 8 percent increase of light-skinned actors in leading roles. It mostly happens in summer blockbusters and action films that the Chinese government allows their people to see.
So much for Hollywood’s virtue-signaling.
We don’t have Disney+ in our house, so I won’t be seeing the live-action Mulan anyway, nor would I want to see it after learning how Disney grovels before China . Perhaps I’ll search out Kundun somewhere on streaming services — if I can even find it at Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. Maybe those services suck up to China, too.
Featured image: Darleen Click/Victory Girls.