By: Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff ‘24
The live-action remake movie, Mulan, came to Disney+ on September 4th, 2020. Before the movie even came out there were questions about if Disney actually planned on taking the steps to represent both Chinese culture and feminism in politically correct ways.
The reviews were astonishingly poor. 5.4/10 on IMDb, 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, 2.7/5 on Google. However, older audiences seemed to love it- 4.1/5 on Facebook. Kids of the 90s and 00s were definitely disappointed with the plot holes and poor character development- as well as the cultural appropriation, which now, above any other time, is most inappropriate.
To be fair, Mulan did a decent job on the feminist front. Writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Elizabeth Marten, and Lauren Hynek, allowed Mulan to be both a strong female character and effeminate. Mulan didn’t fall into the typical “woman in a ‘man’s job’” look, which is something truly appreciated. Too many times media content equivalates strong women with masculinity, which completely defeats the point of the feminist movement.
However, there are two significant problems.
- The original concepts outlined in the animated movie didn’t translate to the live-action movie.
- Mulan painted China in the way that the Western world views China, not in a culturally accurate way.
The second problem is clearly more concerning than the first. Mulan made China easily digestible for American viewers. The sets are like a theme park. It’s not like Disney doesn’t know how to create accurate sets, just check Paddington out and you’ll see that. Disney knew what they were doing.
… Or did they? Director Niki Caro and all of the writers are white. Disney didn’t even try to make their writing group have some Asian representation. They decided simply having POC actors would be good enough. When Niki Caro was asked by The Hollywood Reporter on Disney’s decision to ultimately hire her, a white director, she responded “Although it’s a critically important Chinese story and it’s set in Chinese culture and history, there is another culture at play here, which is the culture of Disney, and that the director, whoever they were, needed to be able to handle both – and here I am.”
Although yes, Disney did approach Asian-American director Ang Lee, Disney did not actively seek out other Asian directors. On top of that, Birds of Prey and Eternals were both recent Disney movies directed by Asian-American women. So, was Niki Caro being blatantly racist or just trying to shift the blame away from herself? Likely the latter. Yes, she could have very easily turned down the job and recommended that Disney make a better choice, but ultimately, there was a whole team at Disney who hired her and waved a big number in front of her face. The blame should be on the company.
This live-action recreation was impressive to watch as a viewer; that’s most certainly true. It’s the minute details — or rather lack thereof — that tear the movie down. The movie couldn’t make up its mind about whether it is a more serious, PG-13 story or if it is a child-friendly remake. During fight scenes, there was no sign of blood or gore, implying that the movie would be suitable for the 5-12 age range. Mongols would be stabbed and scream in pain, but there would be no blood. This is something that is extremely visually confusing to the viewer. It doesn’t make any logical sense. The movie, up until that scene, is child-like and simple, which is why, at first, it seemed okay to have the basic Western ideas of the portrayals of China. But in this fight scene, which would not be appropriate for children under the age of 8 based on the themes alone, yet who they chose to censor for seemed to be the audience they were targeting in earlier scenes.
It’s not just this one movie that Disney has missed the mark on. They have a whole load of other diversity issues that need to be addressed. Disney has been known to produce more white Disney princess merchandise than POC princesses. The merchandise that has been made for POC princesses, like Moana’s Halloween costume (which is still available for purchase on Disney’s online shop), is completely inappropriate. Encouraging children to dress up as a Hawaiian native is cultural appropriation. Employees at Disney World have made public comments about there being decisions made that exclude Tiana, a black Disney princess. There has always been notably less Tiana or Princess and the Frog merchandise. Then, at Cinderella’s Royal Table, a restaurant where guests can meet their favorite princesses, in Walt Disney World, Tiana is not allowed to enter and greet guests, but other princesses are. There is no excuse for any of this.
In the future, hopefully, Disney takes strides to make its brand more accepting and diverse.