Even amidst a global pandemic, Mulan is one movie that held the hype. Live-action Disney movie, centring around a predominantly Asian cast and dealing with gender identity and cultural norms all while including a banger collection of music — what’s not be excited about? However, as #BoycottMulan has been trending on the internet, it is safe to assume that a slew of issues need to be addressed.
Snubbing Hong Kong activism
Actress Liu Yifei, who plays the title character in Mulan, came under intense scrutiny after making controversial comments supporting the Chinese police. For context, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have been protesting a bill that would allow the government to extradite suspected criminals to mainland China. This would not only infringe the autonomy of the region, which allows for a more democratic governing system, but would also put individuals opposing the Chinese government in danger.
The incendiary comment by Liu Yifei came in response to rising protestor violence and vandalism:
‘I support the Hong Kong police. You can all attack me now. What a shame for Hong Kong’.
Since then, the actress has shown little accountability for the lack of sensitivity displayed by her. Prompting such twitter backlash as:
‘Liu is a naturalized American citizen. It must be nice. Meanwhile she pisses on people fighting for democracy’.
This was the moment when #BoycottMulan started.
Abhorrent costs and unabashed capitalism
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the theatrical release of the movie has occurred only in select countries with most places being subject to the alternate release on a streaming service. At the price of a Disney+ subscription and thirty additional dollars, viewers can rent the movie for a select period of time. If the extravagant costs do not put viewers off, the lack of Mandarin and Cantonese subtitles will. In a film set in China, the absence of native language subtitles combined with the fact that translations were available in plenty of Euro-centric languages caused another wave of criticism on social media. Unfortunately, the issues do not end there.
Normalising a human rights violation
The live-action film is set in the northern region of China and was specifically shot in the region of Xinjiang. On the surface, there is nothing out of the ordinary about the location, until one looks closer. With a bit of research, one unearths the horrors this scenic landscape conceals. Almost a million Uighur Muslim’s are imprisoned in concentration camps in Xinjiang. Countless have died and the rest are subjected to forced sterilisation with the intent of curbing the population growth of this minority group — something that falls under the definition of genocide.
Disney didn’t need to work in this region. They didn’t have to thank the very organisations responsible for humanitarian crimes in their end credits. But they did. The corporation has spent the last few years trying to get on the good side of Beijing in order to gain permission to build their park, distribute their movies and generally, profit from the most populous country in the world.
Diversity but only on the surface
As it stands, Mulan is an amalgamation of corporate greed shrouded by textbook marketing ploys and the industry jargon of ‘representation’. Yes, the cast of this high-budget Disney classic happens to be Asian. And yes, bringing diverse voices to the forefront is important — but not like this. Most of the production team is white and there are flaws in the historical accuracy of the movie, which many consider to be missed opportunities to truly highlight a new culture and new voices to a worldwide audience. Representation is not representation if it’s being done unethically. Nor indeed, if it’s executed with little respect for the home culture.
My advice? Save that extra cash and stand up for those who have been silenced. Have conversations around the issue or just let Disney know your displeasure through ethical consumerism — some things won’t be bought. Should you begin to feel like you’re really missing out, watch the animated 1998 version — at least it has the iconic ‘I’ll make a man out of you’ song.