Disney's Mulan: Corporate Activism
By: Hina Haider
The legend of Mulan—a tale of a heroic young woman defying misogynistic gender norms—has been retold throughout centuries. Despite its journey across time, cultural ties and importance remain the same. The production of a live-action adaptation of Disney's animated retelling, Mulan, was intended to be a step forward in the industry for representation and diversity, as the producers promised an Asian cast. This current conversation surrounding the new movie reveals how performative the representation in casting is, along with other criticisms on the location where the movie was filmed and the cast themselves.
To combat the lack of diversity in media, there needs to be inclusion on screen and off. There needs to be diversity in all facets of the industry, including in writings rooms and production. The cast of Mulan being Asian while the screenwriters, cinematographer, costume designer, and the majority of the production team are white pushes a conflicting narrative. The surface level of representation shows that Disney is willing to display an “authentic” representation of Chinese culture but not allow individuals who identify with the culture to lead the creation. There is no control over how the story is told apart from the whitewashed perspective. Performative activism is on the rise by corporations to evade criticism. Disney’s superficial solidarity allows them to capitalize off a culture by doing the bare minimum.
The more serious backlash comes from Disney’s decision to film in the Xinjiang province, a region where Uyghur Muslims are being detained in concentration camps. The mass internment camps subject Uyghur Muslims to forced labor and mass sterilization. International concern has been growing and many are labeling the treatment as a genocide. Not only did Disney film in Xinjiang, but the movie also contains a credit scene thanking the government for help. The mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims has not been unknown. Yet, Disney made the active choice to film a movie set where a cultural genocide is currently taking place.
Amidst Hong Kong’s freedom struggle, Liu Yifei (who plays Mulan) voiced her support for the Hong Kong police. Pro-democracy advocates have been protesting in Hong Kong to maintain their political autonomy, which was vulnerable due to a bill regarding fugitives. The marches have turned violent and reports of police brutality; Hong Kong has undergone non-stop unrest. Many were upset with Liu Yifei’s pro-cop sentiment despite the suppression of protests.
People have rallied to #BoycottMulan to oppose Disney’s blatant disregard for human rights and their lamentable attempt at diversity. Diversity is something that should be celebrated, of course. However, the conscious choice to only include representation on screen is insignificant to battle the racism and discrimination in the media industry. The other choice to purposefully film in a location where millions of people are being tortured and abused for their religion, as well as casting someone with outspoken beliefs against Hong Kong protestors, shows that there is no meaning behind their attempt at activism and inclusivity. To ignore the injustices of the world for capital gain is being complicit. To tolerate its presence passively is actively perpetuating a gross inhumanity.