As we have often reported, Disney is a perennial favorite whipping boy for social justice warriors—and this year has been no exception.
After the commercial success of The Jungle Book and Cinderella, the company announced last year that ’90s classic Mulan would get the live action treatment this year. The movie hasn’t even hit production yet, but it has already drawn a fair amount of controversy after a source supposedly close to the writers leaked info from the spec script on the site Angry Asian Men.
The anonymous writer sparked outrage online with the revelation that the script, titled The Legend of Mulan, featured a stereotypical “white savior” male as lead. The post explains that the character is “a 30-something European trader” whose only motivation to come to the aid of China is that 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” he wrote.
After the post made the rounds, fans immediately rushed to Twitter to voice their outrage under the hashtag #MakeMulanRight.
— Krystal Lin (@lin_krystal) October 10, 2016
Honestly in the version in my head MULAN is her OWN "male lead." What's the Chinese translation for "Bechdel Test" again? https://t.co/ckDj7o9Tke
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) October 10, 2016
— Jade Robinson (@Jem_Jade) October 10, 2016
Since then, both Vulture and Vanity Fair have run pieces saying that sources close to the project have confirmed that the Angry Asian Men post was unfounded, and reassured fans that the movie would indeed feature Chinese actors and characters.
They added that since buying the script on spec—it was written by Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek—Disney had hired new writers, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, to work on the project.
“The spec script was a jumping-off point for a new take on the story that draws from both the literary ballad of Mulan and Disney’s 1998 animated film,” the source reportedly said. “Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story, and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese.”
Despite Disney’s clarifications, Angry Asian Man was taking credit on Tuesday for almost single-handedly making Disney reconsider its choices and redo the script. “We live in a time where it is no longer considered acceptable to whitewash a cultural tale … Movie-making should not only be decided on by the elite—in this age of virality, the community’s voice is as strong an influencer as ever. All in all, mission accomplished. I will pour myself some whiskey and drink to you all tonight.”
Disney has long been attacked by contemporary feminists for its stereotypical, one-dimensional and sexist representation of “white” damsels in distress and the “girlie girl” culture its movies promote.
The company seemingly took the feedback to heart. Since 2007 it has run a regular stream of films with powerful female leads and women of color, from the Princess and the Frog to Frozen, Brave, Elena of Avalor and Moana. But nearly all those animated features have been torn apart by progressive critics, who have labeled the films sexist or culturally insensitive or both.
This time, let’s hope Internet’s cultural critics are sensible enough not to push Mulan— one of the first animated movie to have truly defied stereotypical gender roles — into flop territory before its release, just for the sake of a hashtag.