Mulan: A Tale of Courage, Determination, and Honor
Many will remember the 1998 animated film Mulan as a Disney production filled with beloved musical numbers and a miniature dragon’s cheeky remarks. It tells the tale of Mulan, a girl who dresses up as a man to take her old, ailing father’s place in the army. She trains with fellow recruits and fights the Huns, a nomadic tribe, who want to conquer the Chinese empire, all while falling for a dashing superior, Captain Li Shang.
Although the live-action follows most of the original storyline, major elements have been removed, including Mulan’s sassy dragon guide Mushu and Captain Li Shang, Mulan’s love interest (and a bisexual icon to some). In their place is a mute phoenix and two new villains (voiced by Jason Scott Lee and Gong Li). Mulan is also given a special force that allows her to wield a sword and fly from the beginning of the film, which leaves no room for the subplot of Mulan struggling to adapt to military training.
These changes may seem rash to fans of the original, but they’re not the reason pro-democracy and human rights activists have been lashing out against the film. In August 2019, the lead actress, Liu Yifei, shared a post on Weibo that said “I support the Hong Kong Police. You can all attack me now.” It followed the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam introduced a bill that would allow Hong Kong criminals to be moved to mainland China (especially Beijing). Many feared it would allow for criminals to be given unfair trials and violent treatment; thus, thousands were mobilized in response, occupying Hong Kong’s airport and chanting “Free Hong Kong”. However, police used tear gas, pepper spray, batons, and rubber bullets to try and stop the protestors, in an act condemned by Amnesty International and the United Natiions.
Supporters of the protests took to Twitter to criticize Yifei and the hashtag #BoycottMulan emerged. One tweet read, “She could be powerful for justice but instead, she supports this brutality.” Although widely criticized, her views are not dissimilar to the beliefs of other Chinese entertainers. Those who did stand against the government have been censored. Criticizing the Chinese government has led Cantopop singer Denise Ho to be blacklisted from the mainland Chinese market and singer Anthony Wong to lose more than half of his annual income from China. He told the New York Times, “I think they’re [the Chinese government] trying to ban us because they’re afraid of different views.” Some fans believe she shouldn’t have said anything
at all about the situation. Benedict Rogers of the Hong Kong Free Press writes (in an article titled “Why moviegoers with a conscience should boycott Mulan”, “She did not need to comment either way on the crisis in Hong Kong. But she clearly felt the need to ingratiate herself with Beijing.” As for the people behind the screen, it appears they have no issue with Liu’s comment. Disney’s chief creative officer responded to the criticism in a roundtable discussion by saying, “It’s not hard to offend somebody somewhere...we’re not political.”
Criticism only increased when viewers saw that the film’s credits gave thanks to several government establishments in Xinjiang, including the Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Security where physical and mental abuse against Muslim Uighurs and other minority groups have been documented. Xinjiang is a region, where according to researcher Adrian Zenz, 80% of Uighur women of childbearing age are being targeted in a forced sterilization campaign, which could amount to genocide, as per the 1948 genocide convention.
Regardless of the protests against the movie, Disney has pushed forward with releasing the film. It is now available on Disney+ for 29.99 USD and movie theaters, but it’ll be available to anyone with a Disney+ subscription on December 4th.