3 Ways the Live-Action “Mulan” Film Could Be a Hit, If Disney Listens to the Advice

Disney (Twitter)
Disney (Twitter)

Disney is continuing its live-action bent by making the rumor of a live-action version of Mulan movie true. The studio officially announced that the film, based on the studio’s animated 1998 hit, is in the works. Cue the anxiety, and rightfully so; Asian characters are the least showcased group in movies and in television. The penchant for Hollywood to not only showcase Asian characters, combined with their penchant to whitewash and cast white actors as leads in movies with mostly Asian casts, such as Matt Damon’s The Great Wall, has many people already upset at the prospect of Disney ruining a live-action Mulan film.

To that end, nearly 90,000 people have already signed a petition asking for proper casting when making this film. Social media reacted to the news of the film and the petition like this:

The petition and the sheer amount of signers will hopefully get Disney’s attention. To go along with that, here’s some free advice to Disney when creating this film.

1. Actually cast Chinese and Chinese-American actors. Specifically Chinese and Chinese-American actors.

This seems like it would be common knowledge, seeing how the film’s story is one from Chinese legend. But you never know about Hollywood; they cast Scarlett Johannsson as The Major in Ghost in the Shell after all.

It’s also heavily important that Disney specifically hire Chinese and/or Chinese-American actors. Hiring Asian actors who aren’t Chinese reinforces the idea that the pan-Asian experience is an interchangeable one, when it’s not. Korean culture isn’t the same as Japanese culture, which isn’t the same as Chinese culture. Also, interchanging one Asian actor with another is quite offensive: many Japanese were offended when 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha cast its main leads with Chinese actresses—Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Li Gong, Tsai Chin. There’s also quite a number of other non-Japanese Asian actors in a film depicting a Japanese story.

Folks on Twitter have given tons of free casting advice to Disney:

It would behoove Disney to actually look at the suggestions and cast accordingly.

2. Hire Chinese consultants (and actually listen to them)

From my cursory research, it is unclear if Disney actually used consultants adept in ancient China, particularly the Tang Dynasty (one of the dynasties it’s believed the Legend of Hua Mulan comes from, as it’s not exactly clear which dynasty the story originated). But if going by this portion of the film’s Wikipedia page says anything:

In its earliest stages, the story was originally conceived as a Tootsie-like romantic comedy film where Mulan, who was a misfit tomboy that loves her father, is betrothed to Shang whom she has not met. On her betrothal day, her father Fa Zhou carves her destiny on a stone tablet in the family temple, which she shatters in anger, and runs away to forge her own destiny…In November 1993, Chris Sanders, who had just finished storyboard work on The Lion King, was hopeful to work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame until Schumacher appointed him to work on Mulan instead…Acting as Head of Story, Sanders grew frustrated with the romantic comedy aspect of the story, and urged producer Pam Coats to be more faithful to the original legend by having Mulan leave home because of the love for her father…This convinced the filmmakers to decide to change Mulan’s character in order to make her more appealing and selfless.

It’s that they either didn’t have consultants or decided against learning from their counsel.

Also showing Disney’s lack of trusting consultants is how dangerously close the “matchmaker” makeup looks to Japanese geisha makeup, as well as the fact that Disney had also hired consultants for their 1995 hit, Pocahontas. However, they didn’t actively use the consultants to make a more historically-accurate film. To quote The Los Angeles Times back in 1995:

“This is a nice film–if it didn’t carry the name ‘Pocahontas,'” says Shirely Little Dove Custalow McGowan, a key consultant on the movie who teaches Native American education at schools, including the University of Virginia. “Disney promised me historical accuracy, but there will be a lot to correct when I go into the classrooms.”

Sonny Skyhawk, founder of the Pasadena-based Ameriacn Indians in Film, is peeved that the film’s producer ignored his offer of help. “With few exceptions, the movie industry hasn’t got it right,” he explains. “And Hollywood has a long track record of not letting us see the product until it’s too late to make a difference.”

If Disney wants a live-action Mulan film to become a success, they should heed the word of Chinese consultants who will be able to steer them in the right direction. Just because Disney is the most powerful studio in the country, if not the world, doesn’t mean it knows everything.

Related: Recapping #WhitewashedOUT and the excitement for “Crazy, Rich Asians”

3. Take the Disney-isms out of this film

This sounds pretty pointed, but all of the quirks that Disney puts in its films need to be gone from Mulan. Disney consistently works from the viewpoint of middle-aged, straight white men “old boys club.” This point of view is something that ailed PocahontasThe Princess and the Frog, and in some ways, Mulan itself, even though they thankfully had the ability to see that Tootsie was not the right way to go with Mulan. To combat this, Disney needs to wake up and see the world outside of its mouse-eared tower. Disney needs to get in the trenches with this film, and make not a Disneyfied version of China, but a family-friendly tale that still adheres to its traditional Chinese roots. Basically, Disney just needs to do its best to make a faithful representation of a centuries-old story that also highlights a well-rounded representation of an often-stereotyped and underrepresented group. It isn’t a lot to ask, in all honesty. The commitment to do this, though, is what’s often the toughest thing for studios to adhere to.

BONUS: Address Shang’s sexuality

We gotta talk about this. When did Shang fall in love with Mulan? She wasn’t ever out of drag for long in the movie, so by just timing alone, it would seem that Shang fell in love with Mulan as Ping. Am I right or am I wrong? Can we ask B.D. Wong, Shang’s voice actor, this question? In my headcanon, Shang is either gay or bisexual. That’s the only way the love story can make sense to me.

Related: Queer Coding: Shang (Disney’s Mulan)

What do you think about the live-action Mulan film? Give your opinions in the comments section below! Also, if you like what I’ve had to say about the importance of consulting, sign up for notification of my upcoming character consulting service, Monique Jones Consulting!