September 4th saw the digital release of Disney’s live-action Mulan, a once greatly-anticipated remake now marred by controversy. With its star supporting authoritarian policing in Hong Kong and its credits thanking a Chinese government committee associated with the internment of Uyghur Muslims, it is worth asking: can a film like this possibly have enough artistic merit to justify a watch?
Objections toward the film began when its star Liu Yifei tweeted in support of the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force and their actions during the Hong Kong protests in 2019, sparking the first round of #BoycottMulan. A Variety article from August 2019 reports that the antithetical hashtag, #SupportMulan, was co-opted by suspicious accounts (possibly tied to the Chinese government) to support the police and spread misinformation about the protests.
#BoycottMulan reappeared after the film’s release, when the credits revealed a statement thanking the Publicity Department of CCP Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Committee, a region where it is believed that China is detaining over a million Muslims in internment camps. This would indicate a quite horrific selective blindness on Disney’s part. Though Disney’s CFO made a statement saying that the majority of the film was made in New Zealand and that it is expected to thank governments when filming on-location, the problem here is bigger than convention.
Hollywood and China have long had a complicated relationship, especially given Hollywood’s unofficial role in the global dissemination of American values (i.e. democracy, freedom of expression) and its official role in maximizing its own profit. According to a September 2019 Atlantic article, China’s position as “simultaneously the world’s most profitable and censorious market” has often forced Hollywood to bend (i.e. remove images or sequences showing China in a negative light from trailers and Chinese theatrical releases) for the sake of profit.
Knowing this, viewers should question not only the merit of an actress who supports both authoritarianism and a studio blind to it, but also the trustworthiness of an institution rooted in sacrificing morals for profit. What value can a film about honor and truth have if its creators support unjust violence and ignore reality?
In one sense, it is entirely possible to separate yourself from this controversy if you go into the movie blind* and stop watching before the credits. It is likely that many already do so, turning a blind eye in the name of entertainment to other controversial films just like Mulan. Even if you are aware of the messiness of Mulan, it is also entirely possible to compartmentalize the controversy and choose not to care. Reviews from these viewers are mixed: some say it is a stunning visual film as well as an important development in big screen representation, while others say it missed the mark and lost the best parts of the original.
But if you know what the actress, the studio, and the industry have done—or even if you know and love the original Mulan—it is likely that you will not find much of value in the remake. If the film was meant for a less impressionable audience or if its greatest themes were not so blatantly ignored by the parties responsible for it, then maybe there might be something to be taken from it. But as it stands, the Mulan remake asks viewers to ignore too much while not giving nearly enough substance in return.
*Unfortunately for you, specifically, this option is no longer available after reading this article.
Cooney is the editor-in-chief and a junior in the SFS studying Culture and Politics.
Sjauwfoekloy is a freshman in the College.