Updated: Sep 18
By Eliana Pasternak
The controversies surrounding Disney Plus’ recently released Mulan remake are many, ranging from political issues to artistic choices to leave out fan favorite components from the original, such as Mushu the dragon. At release, viewers needed to pay $30 in addition to Disney Plus’ flat $6.99 a month rate to see the movie, although this fee has now been waived in anticipation of the general December 4th release on the streaming service. Many thought it unjust for Disney to not only charge so much for the film, but also to limit viewership to subscribers of the service.
Mulan’s political controversies didn’t just begin at premiere. In 2019, star Liu Yifei, who played Mulan, publicly expressed her support for Hong Kong’s police force, which has been brutal against pro-democracy protesters. Shortly after posting her message, the hashtag #BoycottMulan began circulating on Twitter.
But perhaps the most disturbing controversy of all came at the end credits of the movie, when Disney thanked eight government bodies from Xinjiang, the western Chinese province best known as the site of China’s inhumane treatment of the Uighurs. For years, the Chinese government has forced Uighur Muslims into concentration camps, where they planned to “reeducate” them under Communist doctrine. The chances of Disney not knowing of this gruesome treatment are close to none, especially considering how close Mulan’s filming was to the camps, and yet they still chose to thank these government bodies, sparking a resurgence of the hashtag, which had begun to die down with the movie’s actual release.
The political controversies don’t end there. Many viewers claim that the movie is heavily dipped in Han supremacism, a belief held by many Chinese communist leaders, including the late Mao Zedong, that ethnically Han Chinese people should govern and rule over other minority groups in China.
The movie’s villain is clearly coded as Muslim, like the Chinese Uighurs. Considering that the Muslim characters are darker-skinned and wear turbans, as well as clothing considered similar to outfits worn by ISIS members, it’s easy to understand why experts such as University of Colorado Boulder anthropologist Darren Byler believe that the movie is heavily Islamophobic. Overall, the many political undertones, that must have been at least partially intentional, led Mulan into a heavily controversial premiere.
When Disney originally announced that they were cutting Mushu from the movie, fans were initially outraged, but, unlike its political failures, Disney’s reasons for excluding some iconic aspects of the 1998 movie were more valid; Disney allowed itself to explore realism, giving the movie more serious tones, a goal undermined, however, by the presence of a rather fantastical phoenix woman who follows Mulan throughout her journey. With Eddie Murphy voicing Mushu in the 1998 movie, it was clear that the character’s sole purpose was for comedic relief and toning down any harsher themes for the younger audience. But as the first Disney remake to earn a PG-13 rating, Mulan ceased to need Murphy’s role. In addition, many Chinese viewers of the 1998 movie agreed that Mushu trivialized Chinese culture. The small dragon did little to honor the Chinese legends regarding dragons as majestic creatures.
Despite all of its controversies, the 2020 Mulan movie did passably with critics, earning a 66% on Metacritic and a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it underperformed greatly with consumers. With a budget of $200 million, Mulan is the most expensive movie directed by a woman filmmaker to date, but its box office revenue barely breached $65 million. With its December 4th general release, the movie was bound to make headlines again, though one could not be sure whether it would be for the right reasons.