Disney’s ‘Mulan’ Costume Design Gig – A Fairytale Dream or Culturally Insensitive Misstep?

So, we finally have a Mulan! As we reported earlier, China’s own ‘Fairy Sister’ Liu Yifei has been cast as the titular character for Disney’s live-action adaption. Now that the clouds of speculation have cleared, it’s time to set our radars on who will be dressing Liu and the cast in this culturally-rich remake…

Image credit: IGN

German-born Bina Daigeler‘s resume in costume design reads like a real-life fairytale. Best known for her work in indie, and foreign films – and more recently in Hollywood flicks Manifesto and Submergence – Daigeler has created costumes that range from period and cultural clothing (Le Moine) to a mix ‘n’ match patch of character-specific ensembles (Only Lovers Left Alive). Daigeler has dressed films from a variety of cultures, but we’re yet to find one of East Asian heritage in her wheelhouse. With her talents in diverse designs in mind, we can’t help but wonder what route she will take for her creation of costumes for Mulan.

Will Bina traverse down the same path as the likes of Sandy Powell (Cinderella), Jacqueline Durran (Beauty and The Beast) and Anna Biedrzycka-Sheppard (Maleficent), whose designs stay true to the iconic fantastical fairytale outfits that characterise the whimsical world of Disney?

We’re holding out that Bina will call for historical accuracy, tailoring to the quintessential realities of strength, power, and struggle in wartime Southern and Northern Dynasty China. But will this path present us with costumes akin to the 2009 Chinese adaption of Mulan, which focuses on earthy tones for both everyday outfits and armour, or will Daigeler create a harmonious fusion of the two?

Image credit: Bina Daigeler

Establishing her successes in these sorts of designs working as costume designer for La Bella Otero, there’s no doubt that Daigeler can cater to both sides of the coin. If this is the case, we can probably expect a balance of accurate period clothing peppered with vibrant anachronisms that don’t take away from the overall cultural foundations of the film – and most importantly, stay true to Mulan’s not-your-average-‘Disney Princess’ persona.

Liu Yifei’s rendition of the film’s perennial ballad, ‘Reflection’ (sung upon Mulan’s return from the Matchmaker) is already a hotly-anticipated scene. Understandably, the design of Mulan’s elegant hanfu – which she dons during this visit – is one key costume we’re looking forward to.

However, it would be remiss of us not to express our concern that while Disney has shown much care and consideration in the casting of Liu Yifei – a Chinese actress – as the title-character Mulan, the production has turned to German-born Daigeler for the costume design. There is little doubt that Bina is up to task, but it’s a questionable move on Disney’s behalf. The forthcoming live action remake has already faced considerable coverage in regards to their culturally sensitive casting, and so it seems this decision employ a designer with little to no obvious experience in East Asian dress could well be a step in the wrong direction.

Disney’s Mulan is currently in pre-production, with the promise of release in late 2018. What type of costumes would you like to see in the film?