Why it’s so important the live-action ‘Mulan’ doesn’t have a whitewashed cast
People have been known to create a lot of really stupid petitions about things that don’t matter, but this petition against whitewashing the live-action version of Mulan is a damn good cause to stand behind. In March 2015, Disney announced its plans to bring the 1998 classic film Mulan to life via an action movie, and now fans are coming together to make sure Disney sticks to the script and doesn’t put Caucasian actresses where they don’t belong. The story is based in China and all the characters in the animated movie are Chinese, which is vital to the story and shouldn’t be erased.
The petition was started on Care2 Petitions by Natalie Molnar and has already almost reached its 95,000 signature goal. Molnar sent a clear message to Disney that Mulan cannot be white, and people agree.
Some of you may be wondering why it’s so important that the live-action Mulan isn’t whitewashed. I’m going to assume you are the same people who think it’s the same as Zendaya portraying Mary Jane in a new Spider-Man movie — it is not and there are specific reasons why.
Let’s start with the main character. Mulan’s identity as a Chinese woman is an integral part of the storyline. The animated movie’s story was derived from a centuries-old Chinese legend called Hua Mulan. In the original story and the animated film, Mulan’s experiences are specifically tied to her being a young Chinese woman growing up under the customs and expected gender roles during her time period.
Every facet of Mulan is centered on Chinese culture — music, dress, and overall themes. Placing an actress who is not Chinese into this role would take away all of the authenticity of the story. This story is a work of Chinese culture and is not meant to be interchangeable with other cultures nor adapted for western culture. It is not a story about a white woman hero who is inexplicably part of a Chinese family or a white family in China with token Chinese people in the background. Do the right thing Disney and make Celina Jade, Teresa Ting, or another Chinese actress Mulan.
An example of the issue with whitewashing is Scarlett Johansson portraying Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. While she is a fantastic actress and her name attracts people at the box office, casting her in a story that is deeply rooted in Japanese culture is a slap in the face to Japanese actresses who deserve to be represented on the big screen as heroines.
The same goes with Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange. Every time this happens, people defend the decision by claiming the selected actors are needed to make it successful. Meanwhile, films like Black Panther (which features actual black people) pretty much have people already standing in line for tickets. It’s a no-brainer: people want to see themselves fairly and accurately represented in movie roles and they will show up to see the movies.
The default for most movies in America is white actors and actresses, but Hollywood needs to stay true to the character’s ethnicity when it’s essential to the story. Otherwise, there will be dishonor on the casting director.
Zendaya’s role as Mary Jane Watson is different in this way. Yes, Mary Jane has been shown as a Caucasian character with red hair. But, her race is in no way a key part of the overall story. Mary Jane is simply a smart young lady who captures the heart of Spider-Man. The story is centered on a man who gets bit by a radioactive spider, becomes strong as shit, and starts to beat down bad guys while wearing spandex. Even his race is interchangeable because the story is not rooted in a specific culture. They both just happened to be depicted as white characters because that was the norm and it’s how the artists wanted them to look. So, Zendaya’s casting in the upcoming Spider-Man:Homecoming should not be a big deal. Again, people of color want to see themselves in major films.
Molnar addresses representation on her petition page in the best way, saying:
“For the audience, whitewashing implies that POCs cannot be heroes (although they may at times be villains or supporting characters), leaving it far more difficult for countless children around the world to see themselves in the stories they love and think that they, too, can make a difference. Children benefit from finding themselves represented in fiction, which is part of why campaigns such as #weneeddiversebooks are so vital. It also perpetuates a standard of beauty and goodness wherein whites are considered the ideal and norm despite that not only are Americans diverse, but the entire world is.”
A round of applause for Natalie Molnar because she’s a heroine in her own right.