I was so scared when Disney first announced the live-action Mulan movie. Was Disney, a predominantly white American media conglomerate, actually capable of making a good adaptation of a Chinese story? I wasn’t totally against this new version, but I was highly concerned that they’d fuck it up. Turns out that was a good instinct.
We’re looking at a nearly-all-white production team. The director, writers, cinematographer, set decorator, editor, costume designer and most of the producers and art directors are all white. At this point, it’s just some East Asian people speaking dialogue, wearing costumes and sitting on sets that were written and created by white people. While I know the actors will do a good job with what they’re given, it feels almost like they’re just puppets.
To make matters worse, the ignorance of the film’s staff is becoming more evident as we learn more about the production. At the premiere, costume designer Bina Daigeler said that her research included going to European museums that had “Chinese departments” (I just got shivers) and travelling to China for a grand total of three weeks—yet another example of Westerners ~studying~ a different culture or part of the world and then talking like they’re experts.
Why didn’t they hire a Chinese designer??!!!!!?!!!
— L (@Shmib2) March 10, 2020
What's the point of having Asian faces on a story that's supposed to represent Asian culture when white people are driving the narrative 🤷♀️ the director (Niki Caro) is a white woman. The producers, screenplay writers and composers are almost exclusively white.
— Em 🌈 (@emcheng29) March 10, 2020
People are already upset that the costumes are from the wrong era. Not knowing the difference would be bad, but I worry that they might have just chosen the wrong era because it looks prettier. Considering China’s long and continued history of being perceived as a purely aesthetic spectacle (see: the 2015 “China Through The Looking Glass” Met Gala theme), that possibility makes me cringe.
When asked by a popular Asian YouTube channel if they felt an American company could capture the story well, several mainland Chinese people agreed that it depends on the director and how well they understand Chinese history and culture. They all said that Disney needed to staff more Chinese people on the production team. Disney’s been trying pretty hard to show how much in-depth research they’ve done, but they could have just hired Chinese people and skipped that step.
If I’m being honest, I’m still looking forward to seeing this movie—which just goes to show how starved we are for content where East Asian women aren’t dragon ladies/cyborgs/cutesy nerds. But literally everything on-screen will be tainted knowing that it was a white person’s attempt at imitating actual Chinese culture *and* knowing that my money will be helping an American company get richer off a Chinese story that they’ve already butchered once. Sorry, Bina, but three weeks in China doesn’t mean shit.