World / China-US

Disney's next Mulan will face challenges in casting

By MATTHEW TURNER (China Daily) Updated: 2016-10-11 13:37

Disney announced plans on Tuesday to release the new version of Mulan in fall 2018, this time as a live-action film, as it looks to balance competing expectations of Chinese and US audiences.

Disney's next <EM>Mulan</EM> will face challenges in casting
A poster fro the animated version of Mulan.

The 1998 Mulan, an animated musical, was an international hit — except in China, where it underperformed at the box office and was criticized for its character portrayals.

Mulan is the story of Hua Mulan, a young woman who lived during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-581) in China.

During an invasion, one male from every household is drafted into the army. The then-teenage Hua Mulan takes her elderly father's place to fight in the army by disguising herself as a man. After demonstrating martial skill and valor for 12 years, she is recognized and rewarded.

Disney will have to balance between appealing to US tastes and making sure the movie isn't "whitewashed", said Nancy Yuen, professor of media studies at Biola University in Los Angeles.

Whitewashing refers to the Hollywood practice of casting white actors in historically non-white character roles.

"I think that, given the current climate of whitewashing and white-savior-centered Asian films, casting Asian-American actors in Mulan is an absolute need," Yuen said.

She cautioned that "if the only representations of Asians are set in Asia, they contribute to a perpetual foreigner stereotype that plagues Asian-Americans".

Long Bui, professor of American studies at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, said: "Having an Asian face is not good enough, as we saw with Memoirs of a Geisha, casting Chinese actresses for Japanese characters."

Stanley Rosen, a political-science professor at the University of Southern California, said: "When the animated Mulan played in China, there were a number of critiques, including one that she looked Vietnamese."

Bui said that "when the Mulan cartoon was shown in China, some Chinese complained Mulan acted too American, with Western expressions".

Rosen said: "I assume that the audience in China will not be happy about an Asian-American citizen actress (in the role of the new Mulan) since it will not likely be someone well-known to them".

The difficulty of adapting an animated movie to live action also could pose technical challenges.

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