Do you remember what it was like seeing “Mulan” for the first time? It was life-changing for me, an in-the-closet queer kid who dreamed of being free of cultural expectations and gender roles. Mulan’s journey from imperfect daughter to national hero was inspiring on more than one level, and it remains one of the best beloved Disney films of all time.
As Disney began to move from animated features to CG to live-action retellings, fans became worried about Mulan. Would they whitewash the film? Would they cast a non-Chinese actor to play the title role? Would they ruin it in some other way?
Things seemed to settle down when Liu Yifei, a Chinese-born American citizen was cast as the new Mulan. The previous cast from the animated film appeared to give their blessing. And then 2020 hit, and things are now more murky and complex when it comes to sussing out whether fans should support or boycott “Mulan”.
On one side: the Chinese government and its bill to extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong to the mainland under ‘certain circumstances’, which those against the extradition bill believed could mean a rise in arrests and torture of activists, journalists, and protestors. There is also a genocide being committed by the Chinese government, against the Uighur people in Xinjiang, a province in northwest China. The Uighurs are Muslim by faith and have been rounded up and placed in internment camps.
On the other: pro-democracy protestors and activists who fear that Hong Kong’s tenuous grasp on the unique freedom of speech it possesses as a special administrative region of China and be swallowed up by the mainland’s agenda and politics, as well as the individuals who are campaigning for awareness and help for the Uighur people.
What does all of this have to do with “Mulan”? Unfortunately, quite a bit. Disney was called out online for filming in Xinjiang, where human rights abuse has been a constant, and specifically thanked several government agencies in Xinjiang for their help on the film, even though in the end credits of the film, the province is merely listed as “Northwest China”.
Liu Yifei, the new ‘Mulan’, has also been criticized for her support of the Hong Kong police, who have violently interacted with protestors and activists in an ongoing struggle for freedom. She even defended her support by bringing up ‘Mulan’ and how she fought for her country, souring many fans’ opinions of the new Disney princess.
However, there may another layer to all of this — several famous Chinese actors have spoken up in support of the Hong Kong police and China, though they may not actually be supportive. Some of their friends and family still live in China, and if there’s a choice between putting your family and friends in danger or tweeting your support for a cause you don’t believe in so that it won’t impact you as harshly…well, it would at least merit careful consideration.
While many people will pay the $30 fee for the film and the $12.99 required for the DisneyPlus subscription, it would be best to evaluate why prior to your own viewing of the film. Your money is going to a company who has said they remain ‘apolitical’ while they film in a province where people are being placed in concentration camps. Your money is going to a place where freedom of speech does not exist as we know it and is in danger of disappearing altogether.
This might seem heavy and over the top for a mere movie, but we need to recognize that movies are giant projects — millions of dollars, thousands of people, and multiple countries are involved. If we are protesting at home, we need to also be aware of other protestors and support them too. We are all living in difficult times, and we need each other now more than ever.