My name – often mispronounced and always met with a resounding “huh?” – means beautiful hope. But hope, specifically, for a boy. As if getting my name called out in class or made fun of at new jobs weren’t devastating enough, I’m the youngest in my family, and when I learned about the meaning of my name as a little girl, I was both angry and heartbroken. How could my parents give me this name knowing its meaning? What could a boy do to serve his family that a girl couldn’t?
You can imagine the impact Mulan had on me when Disney’s animated take on it first came out in 1998. The film, one of only a few I’d seen with primarily Asian characters, takes place when sons and men were seen as leaders, warriors, and fighters, and daughters and women were seen at best to be married off to a “respectable” family. Mulan rebelled against these norms and risked her life to enter the Chinese army in her aging father’s stead and would go on to save her country. Through Mulan’s story, I found hope that a daughter could not only bring honor to her family but also be the hero.
After putting up with countless times of Asian stories being whitewashed, it came as no surprise that when the blog Angry Asian Man reported a leaked Disney script of the live-action remake of Mulan featured a white man who helps the Chinese Imperial Army due to, as the blog puts it, “a classic case of Yellow Fever,” the Asian community did a collective:
Activists took to Twitter to tell Disney to #MakeMulanRight. 18 Million Rising activated its supporters to pressure Disney to hire an Asian writer to help rewrite the script. Soon, we had a response in the form of an article in Vanity Fair titled “Don’t Worry: Mulan Will Not Feature a White Male Lead.” According to their source, the script was just a “jumping-off point,” and all primary roles would be Chinese, including Mulan’s love interest. But still, the headline bothered me. The way it assured those of us who were rightly concerned about the whitewashing of Mulan to not “worry” felt like it invalidated our anger. But our anger in constantly having our stories taken away from us is justified – especially when we have so few stories in Hollywood and the media to hold onto in the first place.
And why the love interest at all? The legend of Mulan is after all, not a romance, and as Salon reports, making it one could still push it to miss the mark and its full potential.
The story we deserve is one where Mulan brings honor to her family and country – not with the help of a white OR Chinese man – but through her own strength. Because Mulan is really a story about a girl’s love of her family and country, not about finding a long-term boyfriend. We need a Chinese feminist Mulan – to teach young girls that we don’t need to be boys – or have boyfriends – to be our own hero.