A minor blizzard of controversy began to swirl yesterday when an anonymous insider writing on AngryAsianMan.com leaked details of the first script draft for Disney's upcoming The Legend of Mulan movie, a live-action retelling of the 1998 animated classic Mulan which is widely considered one of Disney's greatest movies.
The insider's post began ominously with the words of "As an Asian-American person in the industry, I am furious after reading this script," and went on to detail how The Legend of Mulan would introduce a white, 30-something European male in the lead role. This character would be the love interest of teenage Mulan (because, you know, even young-ish men in Hollywood need to paired with women 20 years their junior) and would ultimately "save the day" while winning Mulan's heart.
The Man In The High Castle actor Joel de la Fuente then claimed that he too had read the script and verified the accuracy of the claims.
All of the above would be intensely problematic and gross if it were actually true, but Disney moved quickly yesterday in denying the report. They told Vanity Fair that "Mulan and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese," and reiterated that the draft script the insider has read was merely a "jumping off point for a new take on the story," meaning various details will change before the film gets made.
It goes without saying that Disney deserves props for keeping the cast the ethnicity that the story demands, even if Chinese actors have less box office appeal in America than the usual parade of white faces — so what's the problem?
Well, without even getting into race politics, what would possess two female writers (Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin) to tell a story about a strong female character and rewrite it from a male perspective? In Hollywood, stories that don't fight against feminism are rare enough to come by, so inserting a male lead into Mulan's story feels like a slap in the face for the cause. Even more perplexingly, why write Mulan as a 16 year old and make her romantic interest literally twice her age? Who or what does that serve, other than the inevitable casting of Chris Hemsworth?
Disney claims the script is a jump-off point, but when your jump-off point literally takes all of the things about the original story that made it unique and feeds them into the shredder, what are you actually jumping off from? It's not clear if the duo are still working on newer drafts of the script, but Hynek and Martin have fundamentally misunderstood this story if they thought at any point that Mulan needed a white male savior.
In light of the recent controversy surrounding Matt Damon's The Great Wall, in which a classic "white savior" joins a Chinese army to fight mythical beasts (see the new trailer for that above), it feels like Hollywood still has a long way to go in recognizing that not every story needs to be whitewashed to appeal to global audiences.
There's no reason to panic about The Legend of Mulan. As Disney said, this story will be told in an authentic way, at least in terms of the casting choices. Considering the source material, it could and should be great. But clearly there's a long way to go until conversations like this one become a thing of the past.
How do you feel about Disney's live-action 'Mulan'?
(Source: Vanity Fair)