Whitewashing ‘Mulan’

Ever since the rumors of a new live action “Mulan film starting swirling, people have been concerned about the potential casting.  Was this Chinese story going to be portrayed by actors of Chinese descent or was it going to be whitewashed?  (Let’s face it: Hollywood does not have a great track record as of late.)  When Disney officially announced that “Mulan” would be released November 2018 and that they would be launching a global search to find a Chinese actress to play the titular role, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

It seems as though we breathed that sigh too soon 

In “An Open Letter to the Creators of Disney’s Live-Action Feature Film ‘The Legend of Mulan’” posted on Angry Asian Man, an anonymous writer claimed to have read the spec script by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin.  What they saw isn’t pretty.  Allegedly, the film won’t be about the bravery of Mulan but rather about…well… “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.” 

Have you spotted the problem yet? 

To be clear, this is coming from a single, unconfirmed source but the mere fact that it’s so believable is a problem.  Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have been brought on board to rewrite the original spec script so this could very likely never make it on screen but if it does, I will absolutely not see this film even though “Mulan” is one of my favorite stories of all time.  I suspect I will not be alone in this.  Let’s break down some of the reasons why this is such an awful idea.

It removes the focus from Mulan

One would think that something titled “The Legend of Mulan” would focus on the titular character.  After all, the story goes back over a thousand years and has always been about Mulan.  If the main character ends up being some random white merchant who helps save the day, it’s not about Mulan anymore. Disney would be denying the chance for young girls and young Asian children to see themselves on the screen as the hero and instead provide just another white guy hero.  We have enough of those.  The Mulan from the animated film was engaging and relatable with a selfless and honorable motivation.  That’s a character that these kids should be able to see and look up to.  If audiences can’t even see a woman in the leading role when her name is in the title than where will they be able to see such a story?

It encourages the White Savior trope

Hollywood seems to be under the misguided impression that people won’t go see films unless there’s a white guy at the forefront.  This is exacerbated by the idea that the white guy should be the one to save everyone.  Part of “Mulan’s” charm is that it’s about a woman overcoming challengers and rising up to help save her people.  It doesn’t need a white person to come in and save them.  This isn’t whitewashing per say but it’s inserting whiteness into a story that neither needs nor wants it.  Chinese people should be able to see themselves as the hero not just in a story but also in a story about their own history.  If we want to watch a white guy navigating Chinese culture, we can just go watch Marco Polo on Netflix. 

It’s damaging to present Asian men as being unworthy of being the love interest

Marjorie Liu’s tweets already explained this better than I ever could but she’s 100% correct that it’s damaging for both young Asian boys and girls to continuously see this on the screen.  For boys, they see themselves as being unworthy of love and girls are given the mistaken impression that love has to involve whiteness.  This is not to say that interracial relationships should not be shown on the screen.  I myself am the daughter of a Chinese mom and a white dad.  I am all for more biracial representation in the media but it should not be at the expense of our young Asian men.

It’s just flat out awful

The original cartoon version of “Mulan” was fantastic and the only non-Chinese character in it was a dragon.  If Disney’s intention is to adapt the film, why mess with a classic?  Do you know how many of us swooned over Li Shang?  In what world how much sense does it make to take away a handsome, Chinese warrior and replace him with a boring, white merchant?  (None.  The answer is none.) 

It’s hard enough for Asians to see themselves as the heroes in American films.  The “Mulan” film would be a fantastic chance to introduce the next generation of Asian Americans to a hero who overcomes adversity and expectations and saves China… all because she wants to make sure her father doesn’t have to go out to war.  The story is already perfect.  Leave it alone.  

Bria LaVorgna is a geek who doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t love Star Wars and thrives on the nerdy life.You can find her on Twitter.