CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why it's so important the live-action 'Mulan' doesn't have a whitewashed cast

The Frisky: People have been known to create a lot of really stupid petitions about things that don’t matter, but this petition against whitewashing the live-action version of Mulan is a damn good cause to stand behind. In March 2015, Disney announced its plans to bring the 1998 classic film Mulan to life via an action movie, and now fans are coming together to make sure Disney sticks to the script and doesn’t put Caucasian actresses where they don’t belong. The story is based in China and all the characters in the animated movie are Chinese, which is vital to the story and shouldn’t be erased.

22 comments:

Angel Zhou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angel Zhou said...

As an American-born-Chinese, I have some strong opinions about Americans being cast as Chinese characters (Emma Stone, for example). It is so refreshing to know that this topic is alive and well, but I hesitate about Disney's decision to bring Mulan back. It almost seems as though Disney is running out of ideas, what with all of its recent remakes and sequels. There is so much value in having a cast true to its culture, and I hope that Disney does not take my childhood favorite film and turn it into another flopped sequel/remake - Mulan II was very far from the original in terms of success and intrigue. To better address the article, though I appreciate the discussion on the cultural significance of not whitewashing the Mulan cast, I do not quite agree with the shutdown of the anti-Zendaya sentiment for the role of Mary Jane Watson. I personally do not agree with the Zendaya casting. As a community, we speak out strongly about making sure roles are true to their description. If a storyline is not diverse enough, that is an issue that should be taken up with the writers. When it comes to culture and racial casting, I believe in consistency. If we are going to fight for an Asian Mulan and other Asians playing Asians, we should also hope for Caucasians playing Caucasians and African-Americans playing African-Americans.

Emily Lawrence said...

I do agree that it is very important for this story to keep the actors Asian and not cast Caucasians. Mulan is a very popular movie so I think it would be very hard for the casting directors to get away with casting a white actress. I do think it is okay if people stray from the typical race a character is supposed to be at times though. For example, the recent musical Hamilton did not have an entire cast of white men portraying the founding fathers but a wide variety of different races. This has helped further the idea that people are people no matter what their skin color is. I do think, though, that by casting an Asian woman in the role of Mulan will help further the idea that women in that culture are strong. There is a stereotype that women in that culture simply take care of the house and do “women work”, when in reality that is just not true. This movie will help people get away from that misconception. I do agree with this casting petition for Mulan, but I do not think that it should be overgeneralized that people must play a role based off of race.

Lia Jennings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lia Jennings said...

I obviously don’t have any personal experience with this topic because I am a white female but I do think that this is important to discuss right now. My first question is why would Disney or any other company even think about changing the race of a character? It was written for a certain type of person so cast that certain person, this includes race as well! Especially in the case of Mulan. Kids have grown up watching this movie and have learned a lot through this movie and if the live-action is whitewashed I’m sure kids and people are gonna question why this movie is different. How are people going to explain to their kids that white people were chosen and you are just supposed to look beyond that even though the original story is based in China and revolves around a young Chinese woman.
Like the article said it also takes away jobs from young actresses and actors that are of the Asian decent. Give new people the opportunity to shine and show the world what they can do. The world can’t revolve around the same white actors and actresses. It shouldn’t be about the money but rather the story being told. And even it is about the money a little bit it is also Mulan and they will make a lot of money just by title alone. Don’t take away from those that deserve the chance more than anyone.

Claire Farrokh said...

The fact that this even needs to be discussed is ridiculous. Mulan is literally about a Chinese woman that saves China. If Mulan had a white cast it literally would not even make sense. Like, why are all these white people fighting to save China? The story is ABOUT China. They cannot have white people telling an ancient story about China. I liked how the article brought up the casting of Zendaya as Mary Jane Watson in the new Spiderman movie. This recent casting notice has given "reverse racism" fans more ammo with which they can pretend that white people are not given enough opportunities in the entertainment industry, while people of color have more than enough. The difference, as the article points out, is that Mary Jane's race literally does not matter. Mary Jane could literally look like anyone. She is typically portrayed as being a white redhead, but that in no way affects her character or her storyline. In the case of Mulan, the story is about a Chinese woman in China. The entire story is about her being Chinese. When Disney casts an Asian woman as Mulan, which they most likely will, I really hope they cast an unknown actress. Not that there is a multitude of well known Asian actresses, but it would nice to see a new actress rise to stardom. People will see Mulan if the movie is true to the story. It does not matter how famous the actress is, but the actress must fit the character.

Sarah Boyle said...

If I am remembering correctly, years ago there had been some discussion about how Disney originally made Mulan look more white than Chinese. Obviously, it’s an animated film. I don’t think the clothing needs to be historically accurate. The voice actors can be American when it’s directed at an American audience, they don’t need to have accents. But for a storyline set in China, choose actors that look Chinese. It’s not that difficult. The author of this article seemed to be presenting this as a cultural issue. I don’t fully agree. I don’t think of Disney movies, particularly older ones, as accurately presenting any culture the original story was from. I think this is less about the cultural side of race and more about the color of their skin. If casting directors feel like they can’t get a big enough name with an Asian actor, then they need to try to fix the problem they helped create.

Tahirah Agbamuche said...

Everytime I see an ad for a new live action I get extremely excited-It's like reliving my childhood again! Not long after, my heart sinks a little bit because I know that somewhere along the line, disney is going to compromise something in effort to pump more money into the project. In this case, it's the fact that we even NEED a petition for an Asian actress to play Mulan. Seriously, is this where we are now?? We have one Asian princess, why would you even think about steering away from that in the first place?? Ordinarily, I'd say there's no way anyone would think to justify a white actress as Mulan, but I've been proved wrong and rarely and able to give Hollywood film makers the benefit of the doubt. I'm honestly rather fed up of this. It's not brain surgery; Cast characters as they should be, don't make some lackluster excuse just to make money. To many young girls, and aspiring actresses (maybe even actors), maybe seeing someone who looks like them on the big screen could be crucial to them. My favorite part of this article is,"stay true to the character’s ethnicity when it’s essential to the story. Otherwise, there will be dishonor on the casting director" and I must say I agree wholeheartedly.

Sasha Schwartz said...

When I first saw this article title I thought that Disney had already cast white people in the Mulan live- action movie, and was so surprised and outraged. I’m relieved to see that people are just being proactive in making sure not yet another movie about asian people gets white- washed, and it’s easy to see why people are worried. I would hope that it would be obvious that Mulan absolutely needs to have asian actors, but as we’ve seen with Scarlett Johanson and Emma Stone, it seems that celebrity influence often has more power than accurate and representative storytelling. I love what the author said about how Zendaya’s casting in the new spiderman movie suggests a shift in how we view white as the norm. The last quote really rings true I think; as a half- asian person, I’ve noticed a huge lack of asian representation in media, especially in big blockbuster movies. As a kid I never really understood or was able to relate to my asian-ness outside of my relationship to my chinese mother, and I think this was in part because there wasn’t any popular american media depicting asians. This also reminds me of how in Suicide Squad the only asian woman was a cold, distant ninja warrior who didn’t speak (talk about stereotypes). #weneeddiversity!!

Alexa James-Cardenas (ajamesca@andrew.cmu.edu) said...

Although I respect Sarah Boyle’s comment, I must partially disagree with it. I disagree that the article presents this as a cultural issue, but rather an issue of cultural reference. That may sound exactly the same, but here me out. We have seen many discussions on white-washing and the definition of it, that I think once people heard that a live-action movie of Mulan was coming up, they were afraid that the common trait of putting a famous as the main character (not necessarily accurate to the story) was going to occur again. And though I agree that Disney animated movies don’t necessarily make a fully accurately representation of different cultures, it is clear that there is one culture that is being represented, accurate or not. And that need for a semblance of cultural reference is what the people who are voicing their distaste for white-washing and their fear of it happening again are wanting. Also, as someone else in the chat said, what is the need to be confused. It is a story about Chinese culture and a person struggling to go through it to help her father. Disney has enough money and rep, that they don’t need a famous in the title. If it is Disney (and if it is a throw-back to a loved classic), people are going to watch it. Period. It is almost detrimental to them if they don’t make the cast Chinese, because of the outrage people would have and would refuse to go see the movie. I know tons of people who aren’t going to see the Dr. Strange movie, because of the white-washing in it. So I have faith in Disney, if not in their rep and money, that they won’t do anything too bad. Also in response to someone else, just because you don’t have personal experience or not of the ethnicity/race/culture that of issue/discussion, doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion on it or can’t have an intelligent conversation giving your side of things.

Nick Waddington said...

As a child, Mulan was one of my all-time favorite movies(and still is to be honest), and so i am very emotionally invested in how the live-action movie turns out. I personally am very opposed to the whitewashing of any cast whether it be a movie or even in theater. when you have a movie like Mulan that is so centered around Chinese culture, it detracts from the power and message of the piece when you dilute the authenticity of such a powerful character. this is such a prevalent problem in modern day hollywood from movies like Avatar the last Airbender to Exodus: Gods and Kings. And despite the outcry, it continues to happen. I never saw Spiderman, and so i do not have much of an opinion on the casting of Zendaya for the role of Mary Jane, however I think we should always be as true to the story as is possible in any form of theater or movie-making.

Jamie Phanekham said...

Recently, casting was announced for a movie called "The Great Wall", a film about the mystery and intrigue of building this massive structure in medieval China, starring great Chinese actor.... Matt Damon. In the other Mulan comment this week, I mentioned previous casting of white women as leads in movies intended for Chinese women. This time, I'd like to make a some different points. In movies like The Great Wall, a white man has been cast as the lead, while there is a female love interest, or damsel. This has been a trend in films for a very long time. From the James Bond franchise's You Only Live Twice to The Wolverine of 2013, there are white men, with Asian women as their love interest. Though in You Only Live Twice, the women are there to serve Bond's every need, and in these newer movies, they also do some form of martial arts, they are still regarded in the same manor- as sexy objects. While all races of women are objectified in many movies, other races are also given a chance to shine in other films and have real characters and dialogue. In the world of Western cinema there has never really been a place or a role for an Asian woman that didn't have her as a sexy exotic love interest or a martial arts fighting, still sexy girl. There have been some exceptions in minor roles, but they have never truly gotten to shine as a star, and in movies where it should've been them, like in the past, A Good Earth, and now, Ghost in the Shell, their roles were given to white women.
Another point I'd like to make is that, though we view Asian women as sexual objects, we tend not to cast Asian men very often at all. From years of portraying Asian men as goofy, with no sex appeal, there aren't really male leads in American film, either. Even with the current Asian male stars, like Ken Jeong in The Hangover- he's still almost a charicature, definitely not portrayed in the same flashy male lead light, as people in the same films, like Bradley Cooper are.
The conclusion from all this, is that the reason we don't cast Asian people as the roles they intended, is bigger than when the industry claims, "There aren't any Asian stars, so we need someone who will bring in money." It's the entire perception Americans have of Asian people, fetishizing women's exoticness, while also viewing men as not being attractive enough or capable enough to hold a lead character role. This issue has stretched across the entirety of cinema's history, and it's appalling that it still takes place so regularly. So yes, hold all the petitions you want, until, in the entertainment industry, Asian people in this country, are viewed equally to the majority.

Alex Kaplan said...

I completely agree with this article. I have had enough of the whitewashing of characters in entertainment, and many others have as well. There have been enough examples in the past few years and decades that are just mind blowing. It is great that petitions are starting now before and during the casting process. It is much easier to stop a problem from happening in the first place than getting up and arms to get it fixed. I feel like it would be hard for disney to get away with whitewashing such a popular story as Mulan, as everyone who has seen the animated film knows that it it takes place in china, and as mentioned in the article, the identity of a Chinese woman is imperative to the character of Mulan. The outcry would be larger than Disney could handle and extremely damage the company’s reputation. I really hope that there won’t be yet another article later this year bemoaning the fact that a white actor/actress was cast to play a on-white role.

Sarah Battaglia said...

I had the same reaction as Sasha when I saw the title of this article. I am happy that it is a warning and not a reaction to something that has already happened. I am a firm believer that one of the best ways to make significant social change in your community, and across the country and world is just to talk about it. To make your voice heard, to change one mind of a friend and make that small difference. The hope is that then that friend tells someone, and so on until real change is made and people minds are in a different place. I think that is what this article does. There is anger at the way things have been done in the past, rightfully so, but it focuses on how to make the change for the next movie, so it doesn't happen again. It is working to change a mind, to plant a seed in it's readers head and hopefully start a discussion. I am cautiously optimistic about the live action version of Mulan, and hopeful that we have change enough minds, and done enough work to make a difference.

Antonio Ferron said...

This is the first time I've heard about the live action Mulan and I am so excited because it's one of my all time favorite Disney movies! I find it so interesting that this article even exists. Why is there even a question as to whether Mulan and other characters would be represented by actresses and actors of any other race? It's so sad that we must be concerned that different ethnicities won't be able to see themselves portaying characters that are actually of their same background. Like the article stated, the fact that Mulam is a Chinese woman in Chinese culture is the foundation of the story. It's irritating that people would even consider comparing this to Zendaya's portrayal of Mary Jane. Also, the argument that filmmakers plug Caucasian actors into other ethnic roles for marketability is complete trash. As the viewing public we shouldn't be excusing actions like that. We should be encouraging filmmakers to use more diverse talent. Likewise, the very fact that filmmakers choose Caucasian actors to make a film more marketable points to an even greater issue that we as a society need to discuss.

Zara Bucci said...

Disney has a history of using the correct race of person to be portraying the role of that princess. The original movie of Mulan used Ming-Na Wen to voice the character. Though they did indeed use a Filipina character as the singing voice- they have gotten better about using a voice actor from that traditional origin to inhabit the prince or princess. I can assure you that for the live action they would not risk not having a traditionally Chinese woman play the role of Fu Mulan. I’m sure that several of the characters in this live action- if not all of them, are going to be of Chinese culture. Disney just created a new princess named Moana who is Disney’s first Hawaiian Princess. Disney searched throughout all of the towns of Hawaii until they found the voice that they wanted that fully embraced the character. I’m sure that they will do the same and put in just as much effort for Mulan.

Javier Galarza-Garcia said...

I completely agree with this article. The only thing I do not agree with is the length in which the article had to explain "why it is so important the live action 'Mulan' doesn't have a white-washed cast". The answer should be simple, because the story of Mulan is the story about a Chinese woman in China who who interacts with Chinese people the whole movie. That is basically the gist. Now the fact that this article even had to be written is another story. I still don't understand why people would even think of not casting chinese actors in a movie about China. It would be a different story if the director or producers were trying to make a statement, I don't know what kind of statement, and ironically casted it. Just like Hamilton using mostly actors of color to depict a country of immigrants, I am sure that the producers and director were very prepared for any backlash they would receive because of their casting, though their casting is what makes up the show. I don't think Disney should try to cheat their way through the casting process because I am sure they'll get a lot of beef for it and ultimately it isn't right. There are so many Chinese actors who are way more qualified to bring this movie to life.

Zak Biggins said...

C'MON. YES. It is SO important that Disney does NOT white-wash any cast members and stays true to the show as it was written. There are too many extremely talented actors that are turned away from their auditions because they don't fit a certain racial criteria for being cast. it is appalling to me that we live in a world where there isn't more diversity on broadway. why do asian actors feel like there needs to be a revival of Miss Saigon in order for them to get work? because people aren't casting asian actors nearly enough. many people applauded the broadway community for having a diverse theatre season this past year (color purple, hamilton, allegiance, etc) but i think that is just thoughtless to do. This past year shouldn't have been considered a "good year" for diversity on broadway. we should be having a "good year" EVERY. DAMN. YEAR. it is so important that theatre portrays and comments on social issues... and racism is too preeminent in our society that not commenting on it is just irresponsible. Disney casting Mulan traditionally is not "the right thing to do" it is the ONLY thing to do. There are too many little boys and girls out in the world that feel like they can't be a prince or princess because their people aren't portrayed enough in the mass media. Disney has an opportunity to either break barriers or contribute to them.

David Kelley said...

While I do fully agree that Disney should not white wash Mulan. The article did make a few jabs at the casting of comic book characters. For example Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One in Doctor Strange actually I feel makes the Doctor Strange movie a stronger one. The reason for this is do to the fact the Ancient One actually has no real known history and and in the original comics was extremely caricatured of a Asian man, though never referenced that fact that he is Asian. With the Tilda Hilton casting there is a possible breaking away from the caricature of The Ancient One that comics unfortunately they have a history of using. That be said with a live action Mulan there should be an all Chinese cast, first because the ethnicity of the characters is of extreme importance and sets some of the driving themes of the movie.

Ali Whyte said...

I do think that Disney overall has been pretty decent about making sure they don't use people that are not accurate for the roles that they cast. I do think as they move towards more live action renditions of their classic movies, it becomes more and more important to make sure they are cast and directed accurately and respectfully. You can get away with a lot more in animation because most people have a pretty clear distinction between that and real life simply because it looks so different. But when you transform something into live action, people are going to see those characters as actual real people. I also think that the American media in general is particularly poor at accurately or diversely casting pretty much everything. It is so important that people, especially children, see themselves represented on screen, and not just as the villains or bad guys or that one character who says one thing and we never hear from again. I think Disney especially has a major impact on how children grow up, and I think it's important that they don't mess that up.

Helena Hewitt said...

I strongly believe in the importance of representation across the board. Everyone deserves to see themselves in media and there are hundreds of stories about the impact representation (or lack thereof) can have on someone’s life. This responsibility is especially prevalent for Disney, a company that stills has a strong influence on children’s minds and lives, and especially for Mulan, a Chinese legend about a Chinese woman that is a strong part of Chinese culture.
I have always believed this theoretically of course, but recently I was able to understand the importance emotionally. The representation of bisexuality in the media is usually about power and promiscuity, but never love. A man will have sex with another man to display dominance over him or a woman will be shown having a fling with another girl to show how “free” and “different” she is, until of course, she eventually ends up with a man. However, I was recently watching the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and one of the supporting characters is a middle-aged man, recently divorced, who discovers that he is bisexual when he develops a crush of a gay man. The storyline is handled as a simple, honest, and beautiful moment of discovery and love. Watching that story unfold on my screen made me so happy to see that part of myself recognized as an experience bigger than just me. That is how young Chinese girls should feel when they watch Mulan, that their inner strength, beauty and grace is not just a part of themselves, but the stuff of legend.

Chris Calder said...

I must say I am puzzled because this article goes in to such drastic lengths to defend something that seems like a no brainer. Disney has always been pretty good about casting the appropriate person for the role. I think that this entire article can be summed up in pretty much one sentence. Mulan identifies as a Chinese women therefore she should be played by a Chinese person. The depth in witch the article discusses his topic is what I would call over board and they should let the petition speak for itself. I have full faiths that Disney will listen and understands that this character has an immense role in the movie and understands what needs to be done. Now lets sit back and enjoy the recreation of this Disney classic. At the end of the day I’m glad to see this article surface now rather than after the movie which would make for a much bigger to do.