They're Replacing Li Shang with Who?
A new release of Disney’s live-action Mulan script reveals a new character that could renew fan’s fears of whitewashing.
Recently, many fans were relieved when Disney promised to cast a Chinese actress as Mulan. It seems that the petition pleading Disney to cast a Chinese Mulan had been successful. However, in a classic case of one step forward and two steps back, a draft of the live-action script written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin revealed another main character, a white merchant that travels to China who becomes enamored with Mulan and then proceeds to save her and China. After the backlash from Matt Damon’s The Great Wall and the Mulan petition which garnered over 100,000 signatures, it seems obvious that fans did not want a white savior, but maybe Disney didn’t get the memo.
Mulan is one of the first Disney films to have featured a woman that not only was capable of saving herself, but of saving her family and her whole country. Mulan served as a film that all young Asian American girls could relate to. It resonated with and inspired so many Asian American youth after its release and remains a popular Disney character till this day. However, casting a white man to save Mulan takes away from what really made Mulan great in the first place.
Casting a white man says that it is more realistic that a man is able to save the day. That it is unrealistic that a woman is capable of such great things.
Casting a white man says that Asian men are not manly or marketable. That it is more likely that a foreigner knows more about the politics, warfare, and culture of China than a Chinese general.
In the animated film, Li Shang, the up and coming Chinese general serves as Mulan’s male partner and friend. Although there are signs of innocent romance between Li Shang and Mulan, it is never the primary focus of the story and takes a backseat to Mulan’s character development. In fact, Mulan saves Li Shang at a certain point and more than proves her ability to serve as a soldier and hero despite her gender. Li Shang was not only strong and capable, but he was also able to look past the historically patriarchal society and see Mulan for what she was worth. Li Shang was a man that did not need to be in the spotlight at all times and recognized the potential and intelligence in Mulan.
He was a great Disney character not only because he wasn’t a characterless prince who saved a damsel in distress but because he was a general that was able to see value in his solider and support her plan that ultimately saved China. To get rid of Li Shang as a character is to say that multidimensional, deep, and heroic Asian men are unrealistic.
Mulan was a great animated film and a milestone in so many Asian American childhoods. Disney could follow the same exact plot line of the animated film and it would still be absolutely amazing. Asian male heroes are marketable. Asian women that are capable of saving their nation on their own, are also marketable. Mulan was such a pivotal movie in so many ways and it would behoove Disney to get it right.
Sign a new petition here urging screen writers to #MakeMulanRight.
UPDATE: A ‘close source’ to Disney said that they plan to cast an Asian actor to be Mulan’s love interest. However, there’s no guarantee. Sign the petition to say that you want Disney to do better and actually hire an Asian screenwriter!