Disney's been on a live-action kick the last few years, which has been working out fairly well for them. While they announced their animated feature Mulan was set to get the same treatment last year we haven't heard much about it since. And then Sony Pictures went and announced theirs.
Last week Variety reported ex-Sony executive Doug Belgrad will co-finance six films for them including Mulan. If that's surprising to you, you're not alone. This is the first news of the project. The 1998 animated feature from Disney of the same name was based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, so the story is open to other interpretations. All the piece says on this project is “Sony is also rebooting Mulan as a live action film with plans to shoot in China with a Chinese partner and a mostly Chinese cast.”
Yes, you'd assume a film set in China would have a mostly Chinese cast but then, you'd be wrong.
Once again I find myself scratching my head. Warner Bros. announced they were going to make Jungle Book and then Disney announced they were planning to adapt The Jungle Book into live-action as well (Disney of course already did an animated version). Disney recently announced work on a new version of The Little Mermaid but Universal was already developing one with Chloë Grace Moretz in the starring role. Apparently, this phenomenon has a name – Twin films – which I just learned today and it isn't limited to Disney productions. Why you'd put time, money, and effort into a similar project that was likely to be released around the same general time is beyond me. We'll keep an eye on this one.
Meanwhile, Disney fans are preemptively pleading with Disney to cast an Asian in the role of Mulan for their version. Which, again, you'd think would be the obvious choice, but you'd be wrong.
The petition “Tell Disney You Don't Want A Whitewashed Mulan!” has 88,920 signatures at time of publication and says “Although the film was only announced March 30th, 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 POCs, it's Disney.”
Children benefit from finding themselves represented in fiction, which is part of why campaigns such as #weneeddiversebooks are so vital. It also perpetuates a standard of beauty and goodness wherein whites are considered the ideal and norm despite that not only are Americans diverse, but the entire world is. As for the acting community, keeping diverse actors out of what should be diverse roles severely limits the number of roles they can get, especially a potentially name-making role such as Mulan's eponymous character would surely be.
While I don't believe for a second Disney would be daft enough to cast a non-Asian actor as Mulan, I did mention earlier today these conversations need to start happening before a film is produced, not after. Though I was talking about the creatives involved making smart decisions rather than fans having to do the work for them, but the concept stands.
Jamie Chung has played Mulan for Disney on ABC's Once Upon a Time and the original voice of Mulan, Agents of SHIELD's Ming-Na Wen, has spoken out about whitewashing in other recent instances. There's even been a fan campaign to get her cast in a different role in the Disney film which I hope comes to pass.
Disney is currently promoting their live-action Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.