Disney has revealed that it will feature a “mostly Chinese cast” in its much-anticipated live-action adaption of Mulan, angering many fans, at least 98,013 of them to be precise, with that ominous word “mostly.”
It’s a bit too late for spoiler alerts: Based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, which can be traced back to the 6th century, Mulan is the story of a girl who disguises herself as a man to serve in her father’s place in the war against the Huns. The live-action adaption of the Disney classic was announced back in 2015, but it wasn’t accompanied by any mention of specific cast members. Fans fear that Disney plans to “whitewash” the Chinese legend and want to see that the right actress lands the starring role.
To aid in this effort, a petition has been started on Care2 titled “Tell Disney You Don’t Want A Whitewashed Mulan!” blasting past instances of Hollywood “whitewashing” and vowing that it won’t happen to the beloved Chinese character:
The character, story, and fans deserve the best retelling of the story Disney can produce, and although the film was only announced March 30th, this disturbing trend of whitewashing in big-budget movies can’t get a chance to take root in Mulan as well, and if any company can afford to ‘risk’ adapting a beloved story with a cast of POCs, it’s Disney.
Another example of whitewashing in Hollywood is when heroes are portrayed by white actors while villains are characters of color. Casting a Caucasian actor as a character of color, regardless of reason (“Oh, we just want a big name attached to this movie”, “Western audiences won’t watch a movie about Asian people”, etc) has a direct, harmful impact on not only the movie itself, but the audience, as well as POC members of the acting community.
The petition quickly gained support, raising its target from 90,000 to 100,000 signatures.
Recently, the upcoming Zhang Yimou blockbuster “The Great Wall” cast Matt Damon as the hero who defends the wall from hordes of monsters, sparking calls of “whitewashing” from critics like Constance Wu. Zhang has responded to these accusations by arguing that Damon’s character, a mercenary soldier, was never intended to be played by a Chinese actor. That doesn’t seem like an argument that would work in the case of Mulan.
Already, Fortune writes that Hollywood is in danger of losing its Chinese audience with its careless and opportunistic casting:
Western films have attempted to appeal to audiences in China by incorporating Chinese stars, but critics have suggested that the effort comes off as artificial. They use the phrase “flower vases”—Chinese actors, especially women, whose appearances in movies seem like nothing more than props.
Casting well-known Chinese actors or actresses with large social media followings is one way that Hollywood producers are beginning to try to promote their films in China, the world’s second largest movie market. However, this has been interpreted by some as a form of “product placement.” Even Daniel Radcliffe worked his magic, suggesting that it is “pretty undeniable” that Hollywood is racist.
Playing on that perception, the satirical account “Unreel News” tweeted earlier this month:
— Unreel News🌐 (@Unreel__News) September 12, 2016
Some Twitter users, unaware of the satirical nature of Unreel News were rather dismayed by this rumor:
Disney is considering using Jennifer Lawrence as a lead for Mulan instead of someone of Chinese decent. Why????
— unalome (@KristinSophukit) September 22, 2016
Jennifer Lawrence as Mulan with Zac Efron as Shang in a live action adaptation movie? Seriously?
— JuneMadisonValentine (@Moonlipz) September 20, 2016
Meanwhile, rumors have also surfaced predicting which Asian actress will take up the lead role. Movie Pilot is currently favoring Fan Bingbing but other actresses such as Katie Leung (Cho Chang in the Harry Potter sphere), Jamie Chung and Zhang Ziyi are also mentioned.
Might we suggest Tilda Swinton?
By Seamus Gibson