11:00 am EDT, October 11, 2016

‘Make ‘Mulan’ Right’ campaign objects to rumors of white male lead (updated)

Rumors that Disney’s live-action Mulan will cast a white male lead has sparked a Twitter protest calling to #MakeMulanRight.

Update (October 11): Crisis (hopefully) averted. Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan says the spec does call for a white male lead, but the early script was merely a jumping off point, and all primary characters will be Chinese:

Original story (October 10): The Mulan report comes from an anonymously-penned open letter posted on the blog Angry Asian Man. The writer alleges that The Legend of Mulan, the spec script Disney purchased for their live-action adaptation, changes both the story and the crucial message of 1998’s animated classic.

Having read the spec script by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, the author writes that The Legend of Mulan introduces “a white merchant” whose “business brings him to the heart of a legendary Asian conflict.” The merchant “unwittingly helps save the day while winning the heart of the Asian female.”

To make matters worse, the white hero (presumably displacing the iconic young captain Li Shang) apparently perpetuates anti-Asian stereotypes.

“The man is 30-something European trader who initially cares only for the pleasure of women and money,” the open letter states. “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.”

Mulan

Inspired fans have begun tweeting in protest, using the hashtag #MakeMulanRight. Their efforts seem to be needed — allegedly, “more than half” of the spec script focuses on the merchant.

The new character apparently “develops a mutual attraction with Mulan and fights to protect her in the ensuing battles. To top it all off, this man gets the honor of defeating the primary enemy of China, not Mulan. Way to steal a girl’s thunder,” the writer observes.

While Mulan’s romantic feelings for Shang are an important part of the animated movie, Mulan’s motivations are always grounded in her desire to understand her true identity and do what is right. At the end of the film, Mulan and Shang share not a kiss, but a bashfully affectionate glance.

A recent description of the live-action adaptation says that the film “follows the rise of Mulan during the Han Dynasty when this daughter of a legendary warrior impersonates a man to fight against a Hun invasion. The new live-action film is combining the story of the ballad of the legendary Hua Mulan with the highly popular 1998 animated film.”

In spite of a history of white-washing Asian characters, Disney had earned some goodwill recently by announcing their search for a Chinese actress to play Mulan. But (aside from our passionate desire to Shang portrayed in live-action) it is profoundly disheartening to think that Mulan’s empowering story might be reduced to a man’s arc.

Of course, movie scripts can evolve significantly from their earliest incarnations to the finished film. Disney has now brought on writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Jurassic World) to work on the adaptation — and possibly revamp it entirely.

Still, given Hollywood’s frankly abysmal track record of Asian representation (Matt Damon is in The Great Wall, guys!) it certainly behoves Asian Americans, and all fans of Disney’s Mulan to insist that the company #MakeMulanRight.

Disney’s live-action Mulan is coming in 2018.

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