Disney Promises Not to ‘White-Wash’ Live-Action Mulan Remake

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Walt Disney Pictures has been on quite a roll lately with live-action remakes of their animated classics. Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book started the trend. A live-action Beauty and the Beast is coming next year. In the meantime, Disney has announced that literally dozens of more remakes are coming.

One film that actually does seem ripe for a live-action remake is 1998’s Mulan. Disney has announced a live-action version is in the works. The new Mulan has a projected release date of November 2018.

A Disturbing Trend of “White-Washing”

Unfortunately, there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the new Mulan. Many fans are concerned that Disney could “white-wash” the film. “White-washing” is a term used to describe when Asian or other ethnic roles are given to white actors. Ideally, those roles would go to actors with the same ethnicity as the role.

Disney's Mulan
Image Credit: Disney

There are several recent films that have garnered controversy for white-washing. Disney’s big-screen version of The Lone Ranger cast Johnny Depp as Comanche warrior Tonto. Jake Gyllenhaal took the lead role in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time despite not having an ounce of Middle Eastern heritage. M. Night Shyamalan’s Last Airbender was a particularly sour note for fans. Like Mulan, it was based on a successful cartoon that featured obviously Asian characters. For the film version, almost the entire cast was white.

As soon as Disney formally announced the Mulan remake, fans created a petition in the hopes of stopping Disney from white-washing the cast. Early this month, when Disney gave more details on the project, they also announced a global casting search was on for a Chinese actress to play Mulan.

Saved by the White Guy

Then came news that may not be white-washing the Mulan remake, but they were employing another offensive trope: the “white savior.” This is when a film features a diverse ethnic cast of characters, but it is a white character who is the hero or comes along to save them.

Recent films that have used the white savior trope include Disney’s McFarland, USA, 12 Years a Slave, and Avatar. An upcoming 2017 film called The Great Wall is also drawing criticism for this trope. The film is a Chinese-American co-production that features monsters attacking the Great Wall in medieval China. However, rather than be defended by an all-Chinese cast, actor Matt Damon portrays a white man who helps lead the Chinese forces.

On October 10, a writer at the blog Angry Asian Man claimed to have read the script for the upcoming Mulan remake. According to the writer, the lead character and love interest in the film is actually a white man:

“The man is a 30-something European trader who initially cares only for the pleasure of women and money. The only reason why he and his entourage decide to help the Chinese Imperial Army is because he sets eyes on Mulan. That’s right. Our white savior has come to the aid of Ancient China due to a classic case of Yellow Fever.”

Actress Ming-Na Wen, who voiced Mulan in the original animated version, was among those outraged at this news:

Disney Knows Better

Fortunately, Vulture talked to a source who said this rumor is not true. Actually, the spec script that Disney purchased for Mulan did feature a white male lead. It’s likely that this first draft is what the blogger at Angry Asian Man read. However, Disney bought the script with the full intention of overhauling it. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (the writers behind Jurassic World) have been brought onboard to rewrite the Mulan script.

“The spec script was a jumping-off point for a new take on the story that draws from both the literary ballad of Mulan and Disney’s 1998 animated film,” says Vulture’s source. “Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story, and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese.”

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