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Mulan remake should bring honor to Asian-Americans

DANIEL ANDERSON | Evergreen movie columnist

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In the film “Mulan,” the main character makes the courageous decision to take her father’s place in the army as the cries of war loom overhead.

Disney has announced a live-action remake of “Mulan” scheduled to be released in 2018 just in time for its 20th anniversary. The real question is whether Disney will bring honor to this culturally significant legend in a time of racial sensitivity.

Asian representation in the American entertainment industry is lackluster. The University of Southern California released a report last February, “Inclusion or Invisibility: Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment,” finding that “at least half or more of all cinematic, television, or streaming stories fail to portray one speaking or named Asian or Asian American on screen.”

The data is alarming and disappointing. Stereotypes may suggest that Asians are submissive and soft-spoken, but the reality is Asians and Asian-Americans are people, too, with their own personalities and voice; voices that refuse to be silenced until heard and understood.

Some progress has been made. ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” one of only two sitcoms to feature an all Asian-American family, was renewed for a third season. Priyanka Chopra is the lead for ABC’s hit show “Quantico” and Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” on Netflix is already working on season two. These are just a few of the shows trailblazing the way for Asians in the entertainment industry.

Disney should take a cue from these shows. The story of “Mulan” is inspired by the Chinese tale “The Ballad of Mulan.” The real-life Mulan was thought to have lived during the Northern Wei dynasty (386 C.E.-536 C.E.), and it wasn’t until the 6th century that her first story was recorded. Lots of renditions and details have been added into her story over time, transforming it from real-life to near myth.

The play, “Fa Mulan” influenced Disney’s rendition. In the play, Mulan is a skilled fighter, already knowing martial arts, archery and how to use a sword, all before she even enlists in the army. She is confident and makes her own decisions to join the army, not ever concerned about her identity or bringing honor to the family.

This is the Mulan that should be up on screen for the remake: a real, empowered female lead character. Disney did announce a global casting search for a Chinese actress to play Mulan, but I hope they go through with it and don’t just cast a white lead and sing a song about making an Asian out of them. There is already an online petition urging Disney to not white-wash the movie.

Disney was in hot water for their casting of actress Tilda Swinton to play the role of the Asian monk, The Ancient One, for their upcoming movie, “Doctor Strange.” They didn’t make their actions better when they issued a statement that the Asian support character, an actual character and companion to Dr. Strange in the comics, was never meant to be in the film in the first place, only revised as compensation for the casting of Tilda Swinton.

Disney did, however, cast Asian-American actress Jaime Chung for the role of Mulan in ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” indicating some competency.

Nobody captures magic and imagination better than Disney. The brand and their films have impacted children and adults in powerful ways. Ideas of gender roles, race, growing up and much more have been sowed into minds of American youth the minute they watch a Disney classic.

They should use that power to set a new precedent. Have an all-Asian cast for the remake of “Mulan.” That would make the story true to the mythos of the actual Mulan and honor it with the respect it deserves.

If the animated movie had all-Asian characters, then that’s how it should be for this new movie. That means no white people showing up to save the day (sorry Matt Damon), and no people trying to pass off as Asian (sorry Emma Stone) because when a little Asian girl goes to see the “Mulan” movie, she ought to see her reflection staring back at her.

The perfect time is now. According to the Census Bureau, as of now, Asians remain the fastest-growing minority in the United States. That may be surprising to some, but know we are out there; you just may not have seen us on the big screen yet.

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Mulan remake should bring honor to Asian-Americans