The ‘Mulan’ Live-Action Film: Disney Is Finally Embracing Diversity
Everybody’s favorite sword-wielding, cross-dressing Disney princess is getting the live-action treatment.
On Monday, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Disney is developing a live-action version of the 1998 animated film Mulan. Based on the Chinese legend of female warrior Hua Mulan, the movie followed a young girl who took her father’s place in the army by disguising herself as a man. She learns how to be a skilled warrior and eventually rescues the Emperor from the villainous Huns, all the while finding a husband and restoring honor to her family.
Mulan was a groundbreaking venture, featuring an ass-kicking heroine that saved the day well before the likes of Katniss Everdeen or Tris Prior. In addition, Mulan is one of the few non-white princesses within the realm of Disney. So it’s thrilling news that Disney’s working on a live-action adaptation for two major reasons: They’re bringing to life a princess that’s a racial minority, and also offering an entire cast of characters to play for Asian actors, who are criminally underrepresented onscreen.
Disney has been making moves to expand the diversity of their royalty with Tiana, the first African-American princess, becoming a part of the world of happy endings in 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, and the recent news of upcoming Polynesian princess Moana. But the majority of Disney princesses are white, as the number of leading ladies of color like Mulan, Pocahontas, and Jasmine still pales in comparison to their many castled counterparts.
Representation in media matters. With much of the Disney world not reflective of the diverse real world, it’s unfair to viewers, many of whom are impressionable youngsters, who don’t see characters they identify with. But as Disney adds to their slew of cartoon-to-flesh films like Maleficent, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast—all featuring white leads—putting Mulan into production before other iconic movies such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty shows an urgency to showcase an ethnic princess amid the snowy royalty, which is a damn good thing.
And it’s definitely a smart business move by Disney, too. In recent years, the kickass heroine archetype has proved to be a wildly successful box office draw—just take a look at the billions of dollars The Hunger Games trilogy has raked in. On top of that, diverse casts have brought in higher ratings on the small screen, so the audience is clearly clamoring for it. And Disney’s live-action adaptations have brought in the dough, with the Lily James-led Cinderella earning $336.2 million worldwide since its opening three weeks ago. Mulan, then, poses a box office triple threat.
As long as Disney doesn’t make another mistake of whitewashing ethnic characters, as they did when Rooney Mara was picked to play Tiger Lily in Pan, a live-action Mulan brings with it the opportunity of having a star-studded cast of underutilized Asian actors and actresses (BuzzFeed has already selected a top-notch dream cast for the movie). There’s tons of overlooked ethnic talent in Hollywood simply because white characters monopolize the arenas of film and television, so this will finally give many actors of color the platform they’ve long deserved to show their talents in front of a massive global audience.
Somewhere, the writer behind that racist Deadline “ethnic castings” piece is quivering with fear while the rest of us rejoice in the talent that Mulan will let shine.