Let’s Get Down to Business: The Casting for Disney’s Live Action of Mulan

With Disney’s live actions of Cinderella (2015) and Beauty and the Beast (2017), it was exciting to hear when the studio announced its intention to release a live action version of Mulan as well. Mulan was one of my favorite Disney animations growing up and while the release date hasn’t been revealed yet, there has been much discussion about its potential cast members including BuzzFeed.

But why is it so important that Mulan have an Asian or Asian-American cast (furthermore, of Chinese or Mongolian descent)? The original story comes from the Chinese tale the Ballad of Mulan and though Mulan was real, the story has been retold to epic proportions. Although there are differences between the original ballad and Disney’s version – such as Mulan being a skilled warrior and was actually in the army for at least 12 years – I think it’s pretty safe to say it would only be right that the live-action film highlight an Asian or Asian-American cast.

Except multiple times, Disney has been accused of “whitewashing” (white actors cast instead of relatively unknown actors of color) – including Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger and Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily in Pan. As a result, I believe the (unfortunately) recent history of “whitewashing” has made it understandable that fans would want to petition against a whitewashed Mulan before the cast has even been announced.

This is even more important when considering an Independent article that revealed only 12 percent of the top 100 films in 2014 had women as the main characters and only 4 percent of all female characters were Asian or Latina. So is there reason to worry that Mulan might be cast with a white actress? With the current track record of the lack of representation, definitely. But that isn’t to say an entirely Asian cast would be impossible – ie. ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat.

So what are some cast ideas? Many are vetting for Ming-Na Wen (the original voice actress for Mulan), but BuzzFeed also has several great ideas of its own. Constance Wu (from Fresh Off the Boat) seems like a great alternative to Ming-Na Wen, and I am a huge fan BuzzFeed’s cast of Jackie Chan as Mushu. Though the original voice actor was Eddie Murphy, I loved growing up with Jackie Chan Adventures. Another possible actor (of my own suggestion) might be Chow Yun-Fat who was played Captain Sao Feng in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Yet regardless of how the cast is ultimately made up, I believe the most important factor in deciding the actress for Mulan is keeping true to her heritage. As a Chinese hero, wouldn’t it make the most sense that the actress is Chinese as well in order to accurately represent the legend’s ethnic origin?

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Get Down to Business: The Casting for Disney’s Live Action of Mulan

  1. cascadiyeah says:

    I agree with you that’s important to have an Asian or Asian-American cast as Mulan — and more specifically of Chinese or Mongolian descent — but I wanted to hear more of you about why you think this is important.

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  2. yencg says:

    I agree that Asian and Latina are significantly under-represented in the US entertainment media. However, would you consider to adapt the story exactly like it is and have the entire cast be matched to their respective ethnicity? In addition, when choosing an Asian actor/actress, does the nationality must also match? I have seen a lot negative feedback from viewers when the media generalize or mix up the culture and the nationality (kind of fitting into that “all Asians look the same” notion).

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  3. megyounguw says:

    Given the overall topic of the blog, as soon as I saw the title of this post I thought, “Oh. No. No no no no.”

    Very pleased to see that no decision has been made yet!

    Fingers crossed that this storyline can be a high-profile example of casting done right.

    Like

  4. Janae Janik says:

    I really appreciated that after making your argument that Mulan should be cast with actual Chinese actors you gave many examples of specific actors that would be well suited for the role. You provided a solution to an issue that you saw instead of just pointing out the problem. I’ve never thought much about the idea of “Whitewashing” and it was interesting to see that there are so many white actors who play characters of other descent.

    Like

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