… Okay, so maybe whitewashing isn’t over, but this move is a big step towards its demise. Disney has cast Chinese actress Liu Yifei in the titular role of Mulan. That’s right – not Japanese, not Korean, and certainly not white.
Hollywood has been riddled with whitewashing scandals over the last few years, with film companies giving the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone and Tilda Swinton roles for characters that are described in the source material as being Asian. It is not only the fault of the companies but also the fault of the actors who accept the roles despite knowing the character’s ethnicity. As a result, the films Aloha, Ghost in the Shell, Death Note and Doctor Strange, among others, have been regarded negatively by audiences. Fortunately, few actors have the gall to stand up and reject such roles… even if it is only after being subjected to very public backlash.
But it’s not enough that we merely stop whitewashing. The Hollywood fat cats must understand that they cannot slot just any person of any ethnicity into a role so long as they vaguely fit the character description. When Disney cast Naomi Scott – an actress of Indian and Caucasian descent- in the role of the decidedly middle-eastern Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, there was considerable outrage. The decision essentially perpetrated the idea that women of colour were interchangeable, that they don’t hold enough value or qualifications compared to white actors and actresses, and enforced the idea that people from completely different countries could be lumped together in the same category – despite there being huge social, political, religious and cultural differences between them.
That’s why the casting of Liu Yifei as Mulan is so significant. It not only lends accuracy to the film’s story but also allows more depth and better attention to detail. Liu Yifei (also known as Crystal Liu) can speak both Chinese and English and has starred in a handful of other martial arts films such as The Forbidden Kingdom (2008) and A Chinese Fairytale (2011). Liu also enjoyed a previous career as a singer, which makes her the perfect candidate for belting out the film’s familiar strain, ‘Reflection’. By casting a Chinese actress with significant experience in the role of Mulan, Disney has not only respected the heritage of the character and story but also instilled trust in the audience to appreciate the film for its Chinese history and culture.
With the addition of ethnically accurate characters, and the film set in the Han Dynasty; the culmination of martial arts and what we hope to be culturally authentic costumes, this live-action remake will undoubtedly lead to a celebration of true Chinese heritage on screen – and better yet, in the form of one of our favourite childhood movies.
The live action version of Mulan is slated for release on the 2nd of November, 2018. Will you go and see it?