Let's talk about the controversy surrounding Disney's live-action 'Mulan'
With the runaway success of live-action remakes like 2014’s Maleficent and last month’s Cinderella, Disney is wasting no time reimagining other classics from the vault, including Beauty and the Beast, whose recent casting of Emma Watson in the lead role was met with cheers from across the web. But with the upcoming remake of Mulan—announced just last month—Disney is already facing extreme pressure to cast an Asian actress in the lead role.
More than 34,000 people (and counting) have signed a new petition calling for Disney to do the right thing when it comes time to cast the movie’s titular character. Entitled “Tell Disney You Don’t Want A Whitewashed Mulan,” petition founder Natalie Molonar states that “whitewashing implies that [people of color] cannot be heroes…leaving it far more difficult for countless children around the world to see themselves in the stories they love and think that they, too, can make a difference.”
To some, casting an Asian actress in Mulan may seem obvious, but Disney and almost every other major film studio have been accused of “whitewashing” characters time and again, opting for white actors of note over relative unknowns of color. Just two years ago, the studio cast Johnny Depp as the Native American character Tonto in its remake of The Lone Ranger. And more recently, critics were not shy about voicing their disdain over Disney’s choice to cast actress Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, another character typically portrayed as a Native American, in this summer’s Peter Pan remake.
“The character, story, and fans deserve the best retelling of the story Disney can produce,” says Molonar. “This disturbing trend of whitewashing in big-budget movies can’t get a chance to take root in Mulan as well, and if any company can afford to ‘risk’ adapting a beloved story with a cast of [people of color], it’s Disney.”
Disney has yet to respond to the petition, but there is no question that the studio is facing mounting pressure to create films—animated, live action, or otherwise—featuring more people of color. It’s what led the studio to create 2009’s Princess and the Frog, starring Tiana, Disney’s first African-American protagonist, as well as the recent unveiling of Elena of Avalor, the studio’s very first Latina princess.
“Our creative team has delivered a universal story with themes that authentically reflect the hopes and dreams of our diverse audience,” said Disney Junior executive vice president Nancy Kanter at the time of the Elena announcement.
Here’s hoping that sentiment carries into—and well beyond—the world of Mulan.