Petition grows over Mulan cast

Updated: 2015-04-15 11:04

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco(China Daily USA)

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Petition grows over Mulan cast

Mulan, a 1998 Disney animated film that will be made into a live-action movie, is the subject of a petition. Provided to China Daily.

An online petition calling on The Walt Disney Co not to have a white actress play the role of Mulan in a live-action remake of the 1998 animated film Mulan had gathered more than 42,000 signatures by Tuesday afternoon.

After Disney announced it was developing a live-action version of Mulan two weeks ago, Natalie Molnar, an activist in Michigan, launched a petition at, a social networking website, demanding the filmmaker cast an Asian actress to play the title character.

Hua Mulan, a legendary female warrior from ancient China, was originally portrayed in a poem, Ballad of Mulan, in which she takes her aged father's place in the army by disguising herself as a man and fights for 12 years before she retires and return home.

In the petition titled "Tell Disney You Don't Want a Whitewashed Mulan", Molnar, a librarian at the Rochester Hills Public Library in Michigan, said, "Whitewashing, the practice of casting white Caucasian actors and actresses in roles originally meant to be characters of color, is all too common in Hollywood."

She used the examples of The Last Airbender, Pan and the upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation, which is based on a Japanese cartoon but stars American actress Scarlett Johansson.

"Mulan was based on a Chinese legend. … The character, story, and fans deserve the best retelling of the story Disney can produce," said Molnar. "This disturbing trend of whitewashing in big-budget movies can't get a chance to take root in Mulan as well.

"Even if the story is set in a time or place in which whites should be overwhelmingly in the minority, even if the characters are based on historical characters who we know for a fact weren't white, chances are they'll be played by someone who is - effectively implying to POC audiences that they can't be the heroes even in their own stories," Molnar told China Daily by e-mail.

"In children's entertainment in particular, whitewashing has lasting negative effects. Take it from a children's librarian, kids are much more perceptive than many people give them credit for. Every experience is a learning experience for a child, and every day the way they see the world changes just a little bit. But if they rarely see themselves represented in the stories they love, what kind of a world is that?"

A request for comment made to Disney was not answered by press time.

Michelle Cen, a mother of a 3-year-old in the San Francisco Bay Area, opposed Mulan being played a Caucasian, saying it would disrespect Chinese history.

"The story originates from an ancient Chinese legend," Cen said. Mulan is a Chinese heroine. She cannot be a white girl," she said, adding that she would not take her child to watch the film if it ended up with a white Mulan.

Another mother, Zhang Miao, said she was happy to learn that so many people have given support to the petition. However, she was not optimistic that the petition would have any influence on Disney.

"After all, it's the profit that the filmmaker is concerned about," she said.

A Mulan fan from Ohio, Megan Brandewie, baked the petition and said in her comment, "Mulan was one of my favorite Disney movies growing up, and I want her story recreated in its truest form. There is not enough representation in media for non-whites, and to tell this story with anyone but a Chinese woman cast as the lead is not only a disservice to Disney but a disservice to young Asian girls everywhere.

"The movie is based on a Chinese story and takes place in China," said another fan, Matthew Gnepper from Wisconsin. "Please don't cast it with white actors."

"Casting a white Mulan is no different than casting a white Tiana for the Frog Princess. It takes away more than adds," he said.