The Saga Behind “The Legend of Mulan”

Photo (cc) 2012 Jennie Park

To quote Disney’s 1998 musical classic, let’s get down to business.

After buzz around Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” remained relatively quiet over the last year, the project has come back into the spotlight, but it’s probably not the kind of buzz Disney marketing wants.

The film follows the already-released “Maleficent,” “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book” in a line of live-action redos for older animated properties. The film is set to be released in 2018, after this spring’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast.”

This week, Angry Asian Man, a blog that discusses Asian American issues, potentially broke a story about the adaptation. Disney hasn’t confirmed the news, so I hope you will all read this with an open mind and stay educated, but it’s big enough news that it’s worth mentioning here.
An anonymous guest post on the site, supposedly by someone in the film industry, claimed that Disney had purchased a spec script that focused, not on Mulan or her love interest from the animated film, Li Shang, but on a new white male love interest.
This post started what would become one more in a number of recent controversies regarding the role of Asian actors in cinema, which have included controversies over the casting of Matt Damon in a film about the Great Wall of China, the casting of Natalie Dormer in a film about Japan’s suicide forest and the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the live-action adaption of the “Ghost in the Shell” manga. Just like in those cases, there was an internet outcry over the Angry Asian Man post.


However, another, equally iffy piece of information came to light shortly after. Vulture reported that the film will feature an asian love interest (though it didn’t clarify if it’s still Li Shang) and that it centers on Mulan, as the original film did. The unnamed source had this to say about the alleged script:
 “The spec script was a jumping-off point for a new take on the story that draws from both the literary ballad of Mulan and Disney’s 1998 animated film. Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story, and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese.
The film is two years away, so it’s hard to tell what it will look like, and Disney has stayed out of the controversy thus far, so at this point it is all speculation.
Still, the possible news has already inspired a hashtag, #MakeMulanRight, and at least one petition.