Disney’s Live Action Mulan Strikes Controversy

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Poster for Disney’s live action remake of Mulan. Photo by Disney+.

Lauren Wilson, Journalist

Despite being expected to generate an extensive amount of success, Disney’s live-action remake of the classic film Mulan received numerous boycotts and tremendous backlash from people all over the world as Disney’s complacency in humans’ rights abuse came to light. In recent years, Disney has recreated seventeen animated original films, including Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and many others. While Disney’s live-action remakes of these classic, animated films have encountered both success and failure, Mulan was poised to succeed until controversy surrounded its release. 

Lucia Luliano, a sophomore at Olympia High School, watched the movie and thought that the original was better than the remake. “It just wasn’t the same without the soundtrack,” she remarked. “The original was more kid-friendly and seemed more like a Disney movie.” While initially fans were outraged at the announcement that Mushu, the comical dragon featured as Mulan’s sidekick in the animated film, as well as the original soundtrack would not be incorporated into the new movie, one consolation was the casting of the lead character Mulan. 

Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei was cast for the live-action remake of Mulan in 2017. Many supporters voiced their appreciation as rumors of whitewashing the cast circulated social media. Whitney Sederberg, a junior at Olympia High School, felt relieved after Yifei was cast. “It’s a bit disappointing that we almost have an expectation not to have proper representation since there’s been a whitewashing precedent set with many beloved shows like Avatar and Kung Fu in the past,” Sederberg reflects. Following the relief after the casting of an Asian-American woman to play Mulan, allegations against the live-action remake began to rise. 

After a series of pro-democracy and anti-police brutality protests erupted in Hong Kong throughout the summer of 2019, Yifei shared a sentiment from a government-run Beijing newspaper and publicly expressed her support for the Hong Kong police via social media. While many in China supported and liked her vocal support of the Hong Kong police, people around the world expressed their outrage as videos of the protesters being injured by rubber bullets, tear gas, and excessive force circulated. Soon after these comments were made, #BoycottMulan began trending on Twitter as millions of people across the world took notice. While the negative publicity surrounding Disney’s upcoming film eventually died down, #Boycott Mulan resurfaced on social media before its release in September with new allegations. 

During the production of the movie, one of the locations they extensively filmed at was Xinjiang, a territory in northwest China. It has been reported that over one million Uyghurs, the majority of whom are Muslim, have been forcibly detained at Xinjiang in these state-run “internment camps.” Controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, officials in China have discarded these allegations calling them “fake news” while numerous leaked reports from survivors detail the horrific conditions while detained. Additionally, at the end of the movie, Disney expressed gratitude towards numerous government entities in Xinjiang, including the “Publicity Department of CPC Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomy Region Committee,” which is responsible for producing state propaganda and the “Public Security Bureau in Turpan,” which is involved in the internment camps. With the numerous allegations against Disney, Sederberg does not believe a boycott “founded on the principles of the leading actress was entirely warranted,” but completely understands the controversy around Disney choosing to film in a region supporting the internment of Uyghur Muslims. “I think it’s a bit uneasy that Mulan is taking so much more heat for this than large corporations like NIKE who actually directly profit off of the labor of interned Uyghurs. I think that a better place to focus our energy would be boycotting the 83 companies that directly profit off of Uyghur labor or boycott Disney entirely.” While Disney has addressed its statements in the movie credits by saying that this is “standard practice in the movie industry”, the US has declared China’s actions against the Uyghurs as genocide.