Representation matters in our media. No matter how many times people say it, it cannot be said enough. Yet even in this day and age where this sentiment is made loud and clear over and over again, Hollywood still manages to place white people front and center of stories that are clearly meant to spotlight people of color. Asians, in particular, are getting the shaft over and over again. ‘The Last Airbender’, ‘Ghost in the Shell’, ‘The Great Wall’, and even the phenomenal ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ are just a few examples where Asian and Asian American talent should have had the chance to shine, but didn’t. Now, some Disney fans are making a preemptive strike in order to ensure that the same fate doesn’t befall the adaptation of one of their animated classics.
Last year, reports surfaced that Walt Disney Pictures started developing a live-action version of ‘Mulan’. The studio had acquired a script from writing team Elizabeth Martin and Lauren Hynek based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, the warrior woman who took her father’s place in the army to fight a war. And though ‘We’re The Millers’ producers Chris Bender and J.C. Spink have been attached to the project, it was not listed among the slate of live-action films coming from the House of Mouse between now and 2019.
But despite the film being a way away, Natalie Molnar recently started a petition to implore Disney to cast an Asian actress in the titular lead role in order to take a stand against whitewashing in the media. “This disturbing trend of whitewashing in big-budget movies can’t get a chance to take root in Mulan as well,” Molnar urges in her plea for people to sign the petition. In addition, she says that casting a caucasian actress in the role would have “a direct, harmful impact on not only the movie itself, but the audience, as well as POC members of the acting community.”
Now to some people, this may sound silly. Why wouldn’t they cast an Asian actress as Mulan? It’s a no-brainer, right? Well then, why did Hollywood allow Mickey Rooney to perform in yellow face for ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’? Why did someone think that it was a good idea for Emma Stone to play a character that was part Chinese and part Hawaiian in ‘Aloha’? And do I really need to even get into what’s wrong with ‘Dragonball: Evolution’? Though it should be a no-brainer, it is absolutely imperative that Hollywood be reminded that Asian people actually do exist and should get their fair shot at starring in films and television shows rather than being relegated to smaller and often stereotypical roles.
And you know what? I’m going to take Molnar’s message to the next level. I’m declaring that Disney needs to cast a CHINESE actress as Mulan. Jamie Chung does a great job playing the character on ‘Once Upon A Time’, but she’s Korean-American. Many fans are saying that Arden Cho of ‘Teen Wolf’ fame should take the role on the big screen, but she is also Korean-American. Both are very talented performers, but let’s not send the message that Asians are interchangeable. Instead, let’s have more roles for actors and actresses that are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Cambodian, Indian, and everything in between.
The bottom line is that even though this petition may seem unnecessary, it is far from it. Sure, Disney and it’s subsidiaries including Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel are on a pretty good roll with diversity (even with that slight bump in the road caused by ‘Doctor Strange’), but this message needs to be heard, even if the people who take their proper representation for granted are getting tired of hearing it.