When Mike Pence Got Very Triggered by Disney’s ‘Mulan’
The vice president fancied himself an amateur film blogger. And no movie angered him more than Disney’s 1998 animated kids’ film “Mulan.”
As Disney’s live-action Mulan prepares for its Sept. 4 release on Disney+, questions abound. Will the new version work without the music or the talking dragon? Was Christina Aguilera’s bland, American Idol-core original song for the new version, “Loyal Brave True,” an omen? And perhaps most importantly: What does Mike Pence have to say about all this? After all, Disney’s 1998 version apparently appalled him enough to blog about it.
As BuzzFeed first discovered in 2016, our future vice president wrote a whole op-ed about Mulan back in 1999, on the website for his old radio program The Mike Pence Show.
The film apparently struck Pence as propaganda orchestrated by some “mischievous liberal” at the House of Mouse to tip the scales in the debate over women in the military. (Considering Pence’s reported refusal to even dine with a woman outside the company of his wife, Karen, AKA “Mother,” it’s hardly a surprise that the idea of men and women co-existing in the military spooked him, too.)
“Despite her delicate features and voice,” Pence huffed in the op-ed, “Disney expects us to believe that Mulan’s ingenuity and courage were enough to carry her to military success on an equal basis with her cloddish cohorts.”
Obviously, he concluded, “this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military.” Apparently no one told him that the original story that inspired the film, The Ballad of Mulan, dates back to fifth or sixth century China.
Pence cited the enduring influence of Bambi in conversations about deer-hunting as an example of Mulan’s propagandistic potential—although he stopped short of suggesting it was some kind of agitprop from some “mischievous” animal rights activist within Disney back in the 1940s.
The sexism inherent in arguments to keep women out of the military was always pretty obvious—but it’s further disproven by the often ignored history of women’s achievements within the military itself. As the Army Times noted in a list of notable female veterans, women have served in the military since the American Revolution.
Dr. Mary Walker became the first and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor in 1865 after serving the Union in the Civil War. And per the AP, Capt. Sunita Williams—who flew helicopters in Operation Desert Shield—also held the record for the most cumulative hours of spacewalking during her tenure as commander of the International Space Station. La’Shanda Holmes, the Coast Guard’s first Black female helicopter pilot, “played a vital role in the Global War on Terror,” the AP adds.
Today women represent 16 percent of enlisted U.S. military forces, and 19 percent of the officer corps, per the non-partisan nonprofit think tank Council on Foreign Relations.
By sheer coincidence, this year’s Republican National Convention also serves as an ironic counterpoint to Pence’s old blog post. On the same night that the vice president focused his speech on the military, and his wife called their household a “military family,” Iowa Senator Joni Ernst also touted her credentials as a National Guard veteran.
But back to Mulan. In his op-ed, Pence cited the Tailhook ’91 scandal—in which several Navy officers and Marines allegedly assaulted dozens of subordinate officers during the Tailhook Association’s annual symposium—as well as the 1996 sexual assault scandal at the U.S. Army base Aberdeen Proving Ground, as evidence that gender integration in the military “has been an almost complete disaster for the military and for many of the individual women involved.”
“Housing, in close quarters, young men and women (in some cases married to non-military personnel) at the height of their physical and sexual potential is the height of stupidity,” Pence wrote, adding, “It is instructive that even in the Disney film, young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer! Me thinks the politically correct Disney types completely missed the irony of this part of the story.”
Of course, Pence’s logic failed to account for any gender identities outside the cisgender binary, or any sexualities beyond heterosexuality—not surprising for one of our nation’s most prominent believers in conversion therapy, but a hole in the argument nonetheless.
The vice president also relied on the idea that because military men, in his view, just can’t resist sexually assaulting any woman they might be housed with, women should be kept from the military as a whole.
6,236 service members reported an assault during the 2019 fiscal year, per the Military Times—a figure Nate Galbreath, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, estimated represents roughly 30 percent of actual assaults. In fiscal year 2018, 6.2 percent of active duty women reported they’d been assaulted, as did 0.7 percent of active duty men.
One might argue that such men should not be in the military at all—and that the military’s culture of harassment and violence, which was just as much of a problem in 1999 as it is now, should have been the real focus of Pence’s concerns. But that would have prevented him from arguing that women should be the ones to shoulder the burden—clearly a bridge too far.
Pence has since seemingly retired from the film blogging game—although he has offered a couple movie recommendations over the years. Our V.P. loved, for instance, the 2018 Christian biographical drama I Can Only Imagine—which starred Dennis Quaid and country singer Trace Adkins, who has a song by the same title and also sang the national anthem at this year’s Republican National Convention. Another Pence Pick? The anti-abortion movie Unplanned. Seems on brand!
But Pence’s thoughts about the new Mulan, tragically, remain a mystery for now. A representative for the vice president has not yet responded to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the new film—but we continue to wait with bated breath for his review.