By Ruby Liles
Producing live action movies of formerly animated stories has become Disney’s new project. They recently announced that they’ll be making a live action movie for Mulan-- but their casting preferences have drawn some controversy. Read more to hear what we have to say.
Lately, Disney has been releasing live-action versions of some of their most treasured and favorable films, such as Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), and the soon to be in theaters Beauty and the Beast (2017). About one year ago, Disney also confirmed that they will be adding a live-action Mulan to this list. Upon hearing this news, my heart skipped a beat in excitement but soon was shattered in disappointment once it was publicized that the likely candidate for the role of Mulan, an independent, rule-breaking Chinese woman and the strongest heroine since roughly 400 AD, not to mention my personal favorite Disney princess, would be Scarlett Johansson. You might know her as Natasha Romanov (the Black Widow). What’s significant about this is that though Johansson may be fit for the role of an independent, rule-breaking woman and heroine of the century, I do not believe she, as a white woman, is fit to play a Chinese one.
Jasmine Huang, a senior and avid Mulan fan since childhood, agrees with Natalie Molnar, the creator of a petition to stand up against whitewashing in media, and the roughly 90,000 people who signed this petition. Molnar says that “whitewashing has a direct, harmful impact on not only the movie itself, but [also] the audience.” As a member of this audience, Jasmine recalls how inspiring it was as a young girl to see “not only such a tough chick who could do anything, but one who was Chinese, so I could relate to her.” Plus, Jasmine says, “her name is Hua Mulan, and it’s the Chinese pronunciation, like my name, which gave me a ton of comfort as a kid since people at my school would often laugh at the pronunciations of harder names like that.” Jasmine and thousands of other infuriated Disney fans absolutely want to guarantee that comfort and inspiration to the next generation of Chinese kids, and many believe that a white woman playing Mulan wouldn’t give that to them. Molnar also says that “whitewashing implies that people of color cannot be heroes, although they may at times be villains or supporting characters,” and furthermore, it “perpetuates a standard of beauty and goodness wherein whites are considered the idea and norm, despite that not only are Americans diverse, but the whole world is.” Plus, Jasmine pointed out that “there are a ton of Chinese actors like Constance Wu who are just as well known and could generate just as much money as Scarlett Johansson would have for such a high budget film.”
I also spoke to the Rev. Broderick Greer, black theologian and curate at Grace St. Luke’s Church, about what representation means to him. He says, “Representation matters, whether it be on screen, in front of a classroom, or at a board meeting. It's important for people of color and other minorities to see people who look like them doing normal things like acting, governing the country, etc. so that we too can imagine ourselves in those very roles. Seeing myself reflected on screen or another realm of human flourishing and creativity gives me permission to imagine the same for me.”
Whether or not Johansson being cast as Mulan turns out just to be a rumour, or if it is shot down after receiving such backlash, both Jasmine and Rev. Greer agree that Disney has a track record of playing up cultural stereotypes in many of its movies, as shown in the controversy behind Maui in Moana, the “red men” in Peter Pan, and various characters in Aladdin, while not prioritizing cultural diversity when it comes to choosing writers, producers, directors, and actors.
Mulan, when it comes out, should be a 99.9% Chinese cast, since it does take place in China, because as Jasmine put it, “it may seem like just a little thing, but to little kids especially, it makes all the difference.”
Check out the Rev. Broderick Greer: www.broderickgreer.com