TV Editor Molly Schoenfeld shares her opinion on the controversy’s surrounding Disney’s Mulan remake
Somewhat ironically, Disney’s 2020 live-action version of Mulan has probably attracted more controversy than its problematic 1998 animated equivalent. Despite avoiding a stereotypical portrayal of China, including the erasure of the talking dragon, it is still in the line of fire for a myriad of reasons.
The main cause of the #BoycottMulan movement has been the lead actress’s support of the Hong Kong police. Chinese-born Liu Yifei (who plays Mulan) posted on Weibo that ‘I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong.’
Given the Hong Kong police’s brutal response to public protests for democracy (see here for more information), this has caused much upset. By supporting the Hong Kong police, Liu Yifei has been accused of supporting violence and autocracy. For instance, activist Joshua Wong has demanded for ‘everyone who believes in human rights to #BoycottMulan.’
For me, however, the true villain is Disney. It seems that Disney created Mulan in order to win-over China and thus maximise profits. Around 70% of the revenue generated by Hollywood Studios is made overseas. In particular, Chinese audiences can add millions to box office takings: one cultural analyst stated that ‘Chinese takings can make or break a movie.’ Disney’s live action remakes have made a whopping $7 billion since 2010 – the corporation was therefore fully aware of the money to be made from Mulan.
This hunger for money is also evident in the outcry caused by Disney’s method of release for Mulan. They chose to release Mulan via premiere on Disney+ (the premiere viewing is available to purchase for £19.99) instead of theatrical release (through the cinemas). With cinemas struggling to get back on their feet post-lockdown, this choice seems particularly harsh.
Disney had the power (and the money – lots of it) to invest into such a fragile industry and potentially save thousands of jobs via ticket sales. Whilst films such as Tenet and No Time to Die are being released into cinemas, Disney have instead chosen to prioritise maximum profits over people.
Furthermore, despite its all-Asian cast, there was a predominantly white crew behind Mulan. This shows that the attempt at diversity was entirely superficial: Disney had the perfect opportunity to make a film which truly celebrated Chinese culture, but instead handed the task to a mostly white crew, who sculpted a Chinese legend into Disney’s monetary success.
What is most shocking, however, is that Disney shot parts of Mulan in provinces of China where the government have been seen to commit major human rights abuses. In fact, the film’s credits go so far as to thank an agency in the Xinjang province that has detained 1 million people (mostly Muslim Uighurs) in concentration camps. It is truly sickening that Disney is able to thrive off human suffering. Not only this, but they have the audacity to openly thank the perpetrators of these atrocities in their credits.
Mulan is therefore not a creative celebration of Chinese culture, but a money-turner. As many have pointed out, the legend behind Mulan is about defending the defenceless. Disney, on the other hand, have made heartless decisions based on monetary gain at the sacrifice of people’s lives, jobs and of genuine racial and cultural diversity. Disney is thus the definition of artificial: the warm messages it preaches in its films are entirely at odds with the ethics of the company. I will be surprised if people will ever be able to watch another cute, fuzzy animation in the same way again, given that this charm is just a façade for much darker forces at work.