CMU School of Drama

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Why The Actress Who Plays The New Mulan Should Be Of Asian Heritage, & Probably Will Be

Romper: Hollywood has been no stranger to whitewashing. People of color know all too well the damaging effects that result from films casting white characters in roles originally meant for people of color. In a society where people of color continue to be marginalized and battle historically racist standards of beauty, not casting a person of color as a main character or protagonist of color only perpetuates the deep-rooted belief that a person of color isn't good enough to be featured.

9 comments:

Xinyi Wang said...

Hollywood has been appropriating and capitalizing on story materials from so many other cultures and countries for years and years. It is 2016. It is time to show some respect. This production of Mulan needs to realize that it is borrowing a beautiful and somewhat heart-wrenching story that happened in China hundreds of years ago, translating it to English, and presenting it to a diverse (but dominantly white) global audience. In this complicated process of remaking, a lot of cultural elements can be lost or altered, and Sony needs to be particularly careful and culturally-aware of that. Having a dominantly Chinese cast is only part of it; the screenplay should also respect the original story, and the sets/costumes/etc should also be historically correct. Additionally, the story itself has great significance in today's context, because it directly addresses the topic of sexism and gender stereotypes, which I hope this new production of Mulan can highlight in an appropriate way. I hope this production will indicate the improvement of Hollywood, instead of becoming another example of whitewashing.

Jamie Phanekham said...

I have been following the developments of this saga of casting for the disney live action Mulan film for some time now. There have been all sorts of rumors appearing on social media and not-so-credible news sites. There have been reports of many white actresses considered for casting, from Scarlett Johansson to recently, Emma Watson. And though these specific rumors seem to have no base whatsoever, they don't seem too outlandish. Over the last two years both of the actresses aforementioned played roles written and intended for Asian women. In my opinion, with the utter outrage over those said films, and the boycotts that surrounded them, Disney is too audience and money concious to cast a white woman and squander their chances of a hit, like the live action Cinderella, Jungle Book and Alice in Wonderland movies were.
What's funny about the real story of Mulan, is that, unlike Disney's prior portrayal, where at first she is shy and unsure of herself, she is confident and skilled in battle from a young age. She is both beautiful and exceptionally courageous, climbing the ranks of the army and posing as a man for 12 years to do so. I think not only should an Asian woman be cast, but she should also be represented properly in this iteration. Last year's Jungle Book followed Rudyard Kipling's tale more than the 60's version, and I hope Disney corrects their previous mistakes here, too. It's not just about having an Asian woman play the role, though admittedly that is a huge first step. It's also about representing Mulan, not through the eyes of an American, who stereotypically view Asian women as subservient and demure, but as the legend she was always intended to be. I hope they can depict a strong, powerful Asian woman to show young girls, and the rest of the nation that Asian women are not just quiet, waiting to be told what to do. My other hope is that, this time around they more properly represent Han China, so Chinese people can enjoy it too, since the animated version contains a lot of Japanese garb and achitecture.

Delaney Johnson said...

When someone is asked to describe what they imagine when told to think of a Disney Princess, they will often say one of two things. Option 1: A prim and proper girl who uses magic to garner the love of a man. Option 2: A strong independent woman that uses her own skills and abilities to combat an overwhelming force and meet or exceed a goal. Disney has already made an amazing improvement in its Disney Princess franchise in recent years to not only motivate young girls, but also to accurately represent the power and ability of the modern woman. Disney has succeeded in doing this, and now it is there job to properly portray race the same way as it has worked to improve its view of gender. Not only would I agree that Disney should cast an Asian woman as Mulan, but i would also argue that they would suffer grave consequences if they do not. This is Disney's turn to make a decision to accurately depict not only a legend but also a legacies of Asian empowerment. Whats your move Disney?

Liz He said...

I remember when I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's and felt really strange about that Japanese neighbor Yunioshi. I later found out that it was played by a white actor and in 1961, The New York Times commented that "Mickey Rooney's bucktoothed, myopic Japanese is broadly exotic." Casting a white male to play an asian character and praising him being exotic is just so problematic and absurd. Despite the fact that there are numerous Asians or Asian Americans who are just as talented and speak beautifully and properly, the visibility of actual asian actors rather than asian roles played by white people is pretty rare. Even if there is some presence in the movie industry, Asian characters in Hollywood are normally portrayed as nerdy, awkward, timid, unsocial and with all sorts of weird accents. With the protest against whitewashing getting more and more momentum, Disney's casting decisions really have the potential of being groundbreaking for asian people whose cultures are appropriated but whose voices are ignored or silenced.

There are a handful of super heroines in Chinese history and they are all pure awesome. It is amazing that females like Mulan are acknowledged in history, literature, traditional operas and dance pieces especially given the highly patriarchy society they were in where tons of etiquettes, rules, restrictions were imposed on women. What Jamie said about the original story is true and I also hope that Disney can adopt the real story and portray this brave and brilliant heroine without feeding into any stereotypes on females, especially asian females.

Claire Krueger said...

I am excited about Moanna and the predominately chinese cast and am read for more colorful films. Being white and coming from a predominately while town with rich white people on all sides it is interesting to see how much people ignore. From those who think racism doesnt exist to those who don't notice a lack of female and POCs in movies, there is lots of ignorance to go around. It pleases me immensely to see people standing up for diversity. The combined efforts of hundreds and thousands of fan are helping to push movie makers into the future impresses me greatly.

And there is nothing that cheers you up like listening to Mulan at 12:30am alone in 33.

Michelle Li said...

YES!!! This article makes my heart swell. Mulan has always been a staple growing up (I probably still have the VCR of Mulan lying around somewhere). I remember watching it over and over on the couch and laughing along with it. However, I don't think I ever superimposed myself onto Mulan and saw her as my idol; that aspect isn't really much in my nature-- but I can see why Mulan was a important figure in many lives of young asian women. In mainstream media, Mulan was one of the first protagonist from a large, widespread company that was Asian. She was relatable and made sense and "clicked".

Like both Liz and Jamie mentioned above me, the original tale of Mulan must be done justice, and to make that point of Asian women not having to be demure. I think we've taken a step with Frozen, where the ending doesn't necessarily end with the princess getting married and living happily ever after-- we've crossed that threshold of women being their independent selves. But let's take this one step further and start changing this view on Asian woman in particular with this emergence of Mulan.

Sabrina Browne said...

This is long overdue. While it is exciting to hear that an upcoming production might be free of Hollywood's whitewashing, it upsets me that a petition was necessary and it wasn't just a clear choice to cast an asian actress for an asian role. Coming from Los Angeles, I've been surrounded with wildly diverse and talented artists. Yet somehow, it seems that only white artists make it up on big screens. Appropriate casting is something that I hope to see more of in the future, and hopefully it will someday just become a norm.

Sophie Chen said...

Over the summer, I saw articles about the controversies surrounding upcoming movie The Great Wall - a movie set in China with a cast of both Asian and white actors, but the lead actor is Matt Damon. The issue/confusion that I have (apart from the whitewashing) with this film is that it is directed by a very well known Chinese director, Zhang Yimou. This just goes to show that the concept of whitewashing is very penetrated in entertainment industries across the world. How can we expect Hollywood to end whitewashing if even Chinese directors prefer white actors? This is also why the fact that the live-action version of Mulan will be filmed with a Chinese partner worries me. Hopefully Disney is smart enough to not cast a white actress for Mulan's role because they will lose a lot of audiences. I loved the animated movie even though as Jamie mentioned it did have a lot of distinctly Japanese stuff in it. I have pretty high expectations for this movie given how big of a hit disney remakes are lately, and hopefully this remake lives up to the high quality content that disney always brings.

Megan Jones said...

I agree with Sabrina, it's really disappointing that an Asian actress wasn't the obvious first choice. Using an Asian actress for this role isn't just the right choice, it's the only choice. Hollywood has come under major fire recently for its continuous whitewashing of roles meant for people of color, and it's about time they do something about it. In Disney's case, most of their princesses are already white. Casting a white actress in this role would further perpetuate this problem, and would lose them a lot of their audience. Look at Scarlett Johansson's casting in Ghost in the Shell. After news broke that she not only had been cast in a role meant for an Asian woman, but that technology may have been used to make her appear less white people were rightfully outraged. I know that I will personally never see this film for this reason. If Disney were to cast a white woman in this role I'll be doing the same for Mulan, no matter how much I love the film.