Film News

Why People Are Criticizing Disney's "Mulan"

People are taking issues with "Mulan" stars' political beliefs (or lack thereof) and the movie's apparent support of Uighur "re-education" camps.

Mulan Movie

Mulan is a beloved animated Disney film, but its live-action adaptation has run into some real-world problems.

The 1998 animated Disney film, based on a Chinese folklore tale "The Ballad of Mulan," received the classic 2020 live-action remake treatment this year. But its rollout was plagued by problems from the start.

Originally meant to debut on March 27, 2020, the film's release was delayed three times due to COVID-19. Finally, the studio decided to roll out the film on September 8, 2020, bypassing movie theaters entirely in the US. Instead, it exclusively dropped on Disney+ in the US for a tall fee of $30. The film will become available to all Disney+ subscribers on December 4th. The film is also being released in some recently reopened theatres in Asia, and it's expected to bring in millions of dollars in China when it debuts this Friday.

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Will the Coronavirus Finally Settle the Streaming Movies vs. Theater Debate?

With COVID-19 now a full-blown pandemic, industries are struggling to adjust, but the film and TV industry may never be the same

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Less than a year ago, at the 2019 Cinemacon in Las Vegas, Oscar Winner Helen Mirren shared her opinion on streaming movies in no uncertain terms: "I love Netflix, but f*ck Netflix!"

The comment came amid controversy over the criteria by which a film qualifies for consideration for the Academy Awards and other major accolades. At the time, Netflix and other streaming platforms were pushing for their original productions to be included for consideration without the need for traditional theatrical releases, and many in the industry balked at the prospect. Yesterday, Regal and AMC—the largest cinema chains in the US—both announced that they will be closing all their theatres starting today. Together, the two companies operate nearly 50% of theater screens in the US. Other chains have restricted theater crowds, and more closures are certain to follow.

With no clear end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, there is an open question about how the movie and television industries will cope. While social distancing is creating increased demand for streaming content, and numerous scheduled releases and production schedules have been delayed indefinitely, will studios be forced to release their existing projects online? Will selection criteria be adjusted for the 2021 award season? And will movie theaters ever recover?

Almost every aspect of our society is in the process of restructuring to adjust to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. More and more people are working from home. Entire regions are shutting down their restaurants and bars. And citizens and politicians alike are calling for measures that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago—on the left, many people are pushing for freezes on evictions, as well as rent and mortgage payments, and even some Republicans (normally shills for heartless capitalism) are suggesting universal income measures to help people get by. In the short term it's causing unprecedented turmoil in the stock market, but in the long term, some industries are likely to never fully bounce back.

In some of the most dire cases—movie theaters being a prime example—the change has been a long time coming. American theater attendance peaked in 2002 and has been on a slow decline ever since—with audiences increasingly preferring the convenience of television and streaming services. Independent theaters have been hit hardest, with many closing down in recent years. Likewise, brick and mortar retail has been hit hard by the convenience of online shopping—with many local stores and even some major retail chains forced out of business. The restrictions imposed by the coronavirus—the latest guidelines advise against gatherings of more than ten people—are only accelerating the rate of change that was already occurring.

While many industry insiders would decry the loss of the theater experience—the immersive scale and the communal environment—most Americans have gotten used to viewing even epic films on screens smaller than a sheet of paper. While directors like Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan will argue that movies are made to be viewed on the big screen, when your nose is six inches from the action, it hardly feels small. None of this is to say that there won't be something real lost if movie theaters disappear—just that it might be inevitable, and that the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the process. Empty movie theaters may soon join the suburban blight of empty malls and abandoned factories that dot the American landscape. They may go the way of the drive-in.

Abandoned Mall

With the narrow profit margins involved in the theater business, government intervention (as we've already seen with other industries) could help them stay afloat until things return to normal, but the more realistic scenario may be that things never return to normal. While AMC's closure is currently slated to last 6-12 weeks, there is no way of telling how long it will actually last, and it may end up consuming the rest of 2020 and beyond. Will the Hollywood Foreign Press and the Academy open consideration to streaming content and encourage studios to opt for Internet releases in the case of James Bond, Mulan, and others? Or will they cancel next year's award season entirely? Whatever the case, 2020 is looking increasingly likely to be the year that cements the supremacy of the Internet over going outside.

Meanwhile, with Stephen Colbert delivering his Late Show monologue from home (from his bathtub, to be specific), will we see other productions following suit—delivering much-needed entertainment to the isolated masses while limiting the spread of the virus? The term "bottle episode" refers to the trope—particularly common in 90s sitcoms—wherein a small number of characters are trapped together in a confined space. Will we see a resurgence of that concept with an influx of quarantine content? Or will television networks and studios take it to the next level and invest in concepts that allow performers to work remotely from the safety of home, either with animation, or with live-action shows that play with the fact that no one is in the same room (e.g. the episode of Modern Family that took place entirely on FaceTime) If not, TV may also be left behind by the vast array of independent content creators who are more than capable of working with the current conditions.

modern family

Whatever else happens in the coming months—and as much as this all feels like a throwback to a different era—we should all be thankful, for once, that culture has increasingly embraced isolation with streaming and delivery services that prevent the need to leave our homes. We all thought we were just being lazy. It turns out we were training for a pandemic.


Homophobia in Animation: Queer-Coded Disney Characters

Disney has almost no outwardly queer characters, and the queer-coded characters it does have are almost always villains.

Let's be honest: Disney hasn't given us a lot to work with in terms of LGBTQ+ representation.

Troublingly, many of the Disney characters that display queer characteristics are also portrayed as villains. While this isn't a positive thing overall, many queer folks have combed through Disney movies, triumphantly reclaiming the franchise's many glittering, flamboyant, queer-coded characters.

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Still #BoycottMulan? Liu Yifei Might Be a Victim of Forced Propaganda by the Chinese Government

China might be forcing stars like Mulan's Liu Yifei to spread anti-protester propaganda.

Mulan's official trailer dropped. Meanwhile, pro-democracy protesters persist in their fight for freedom in the face of violence from Hong Kong police.

Remember the controversy surrounding actress Liu Yifei (a.k.a. Crystal Liu), star of Disney's upcoming live-action Mulan, when she posted anti-protester sentiment on social media? While anger at the star's anti-democracy stance might seem natural, it's very possible that Liu is also a victim of the Chinese government.

liu yifei weibo

In August, Liu shared an image on Weibo (China's Twitter-like platform––Twitter is blocked in China) that translates to "I support Hong Kong's police, you can beat me up now." These are words of Fu Guohao, a mainland Chinese journalist who was roughed up by protestors after being caught taking close-up pictures of them at the Hong Kong airport and refusing to show his press credentials (the details here are scant as much of the information available is Chinese propaganda). Upon returning to China, he has been deemed a hero, and his words have become a rallying cry against pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters.

Liu's post, which was originally printed in China's state-backed People's Daily, concluded: "What a shame for Hong Kong." Liu added the hashtag "IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice" alongside a heart emoji and a bicep flex.

The backlash against Liu was immediate, with #BoycottMulan trending in both Hong Kong and the US on Twitter. She's been globally criticized for supporting a police force that is currently being accused of human rights violations against protesters by the UN.

"Disney's Mulan actress, Liu Yifei, supports police brutality and oppression in Hong Kong. Liu is a naturalized American citizen. it must be nice. meanwhile she pisses on people fighting for democracy," wrote Twitter user Sean Norton.

But while Liu's post certainly is not a good look for a Western movie star, disturbing evidence suggests that her sentiments might not be entirely her own.

In fact, around the same time, a ton of other Chinese celebrities shared roughly the same sentiment, with startling uniformity: the same "What a shame for Hong Kong" picture (or, alternatively, the Chinese Five-starred Red Flag), the same "IAlsoSupportTheHongKongPolice" hashtag, and very little else.

chinese celebrity propaganda

Some internationally known Chinese celebrities, like singer Lay Zhang, posted the same thing on Twitter:

What's stranger is that none of these celebrities seem particularly well-known for their political activism.

Then, in another instance, many other accounts shared the same exact message as China Central Television: "Hong Kong is part of China forever," followed by the Chinese Flag emoji.

Isn't it strange to see so many influential Chinese social media accounts essentially copying and pasting the same messages in coordination? Moreover, the comment sections for all of these posts (including Lay Zhang's tweet) are full of people supporting mainland China and the Hong Kong police against pro-democracy protesters. This anti-democracy sentiment seems especially weird on Twitter, considering, again, most of the Chinese people who hold these sentiments wouldn't typically have access to the platform.

This isn't to say that Liu Yifei doesn't actually support the Hong Kong police, nor mainland China's claim to ownership of Hong Kong. She very well might. But the possibility also exists that the Chinese government is forcibly using influential Chinese celebrities as mouthpieces for political purposes.

This is not unprecedented in China. There, celebrities' careers are explicitly tied to whether or not they hold favor with the ruling party. This was proven when they "disappeared" their most famous and successful actress, Fan Bingbing, over supposed tax evasion charges. Some, however, suspect her disappearance had everything to do with her growing international influence. She quietly returned months later, oddly sharing a pro-China Communist Youth League post in response to a director who supported Taiwan's autonomy.

"China cannot miss out on any inch," shared Fan.

fan bingbing propaganda

Moreover, even a naturalized American citizen like Liu isn't necessarily safe. The Chinese government has a tendency to use family members still living in mainland China to silence and control expats who might prove problematic. Such was the case for Anastasia Lin, a China-born Canadian beauty queen who spoke out about human-rights abuses in China, only for herself and her family to become targets of the Chinese government's wrath.

"My father sent me a text message saying that they have contacted him telling him that if I continue to speak up, my family would be persecuted like in the Cultural Revolution. My father's generation grew up in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, so for him it's the biggest threat you can make. It means you die, you get publicly persecuted," said Lin.

With a government like the Communist Party of China, which has unprecedented control over its people, it's hard to say what celebrity political endorsements are genuine and which are forced propaganda. While it may be a combination of the two, as seems to be the case with Hong Kong-born action-star Jackie Chan, who now goes above and beyond as a pro-China advocate, one can never really know for sure. When "freedom" is removed from the equation and the safety of someone's family hangs in the balance, it's impossible to distinguish which Chinese celebrities are patriots and which are victims.

A new musical based on Britney Spears' discography is coming to Broadway. It's called Once Upon a One More Time, and it follows everyone's favorite Disney princesses as they sing, dance, and—read Betty Friedan? That's right, feminism has come for cinema's most helpless damsels in distress at long last, and it's to the tune of Britney, Bitch.

Although Britney seems like an odd choice for a musical about female empowerment—after all, she literally has songs about loving someone toxic and being a slave 4u—hopefully, whoever's writing this show will alternate stunningly sexy dance numbers with a couple hard-hitting lines about the importance of leaving toxic relationships and possessing a strong sense of self.

Image via Stereogum

As we wait with bated breath for the musical to premiere in Chicago and eventually take Broadway by storm, we couldn't help but speculate about which iconic Britney songs will soundtrack which princess's ascension to independence and liberation. All we currently know about the plot comes from this quote from the writer, Jon Hartmere—a white dude (suspicious) who admittedly sounds somewhat woke. "Cinderella is having an existential crisis, and she has a posse of famous princesses, and her stepmother is the main antagonist," he told The New York Times, "and there's also Prince Charming and a dwarf we've never met—the eighth dwarf—and a narrator who is unhappy his system is being dismantled before his eyes. These women have been in this hermetically sealed world, and then they start to get deeper into modern ideas—second-and third-wave feminism—and also explore how stories are passed down to us, and where we get our norms from."

Given this information, here's our dream song list and plot. (Hint: it's gay).

"Born to Make You Happy": This song would work well as a satirical opening number, featuring Cinderella, Tiana, Mulan, and Snow White singing in harmony. Ideally, it would build up to a climax of despair as they lament the patriarchal, hierarchical system that binds them to lives spent in their respective castles, having vanilla sex with their perpetually absent, womanizing Prince Charmings.

"Work B**ch": This song would be the perfect theme for the Evil Stepmother character, who celebrates her riches and relishes watching our girls toil away (and who also embodies the evils of white feminism). Possibly it could also feature the Beast, Shen from Mulan, and the many, many other characters who have forced Disney princesses to work (or temporarily put them to sleep and/or killed them) until princes save them.

"I Wanna Go": This song would be a great solo for Cinderella (played by Carly Rae Jepsen) as she experiences her existential crisis. Reimagined as a slow-burning ballad that culminates in a dramatic dance sequence, this would be a perfect song to mark the start of Cinderella's spiritual awakening.

"What You Need": As the Fairy Godmother inevitably descends from the rafters, decked out in glittering wings, she should definitely be singing this song, turning Cinderella's lamentations into an all-out party complete with backup dancers, backflips, and tons of glitter. Ideally, it would be broken up with smart passages from feminist theory texts. And this time, instead of shoes and a fancy dress, Cinderella would, of course, receive a gorgeous, larger-than-life copy of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.

"Brave New Girl": This song could soundtrack Cinderella's transformation from subservient wife to second-wave feminist. Perhaps its verses could be broken up by a fight with her husband in which she tries to weigh in on some political policy, and when he tells her that he only wants her to be a wife, not a person, Cinderella leaves in a huff to meet up with her girls.

"Circus": This song is perfect for when the princess posse meets up at a masquerade ball-themed club, and we meet each character, each dressed more fabulously than the last.

"If U Seek Amy": Just hear me out on this one: wouldn't this not-at-all-explicit song be the ideal soundtrack for the moment Cinderella meets a female love interest (Mulan?) and, as a trick, says her name is Amy, leading to a flirtatious chase?

"Toxic": This masterwork of modern composition must have a starring moment in the show. It may be perfect for the moment when Prince Charming returns to seduce Cinderella, tricking her with promises of money and Happily Ever After if only she keeps her head down and follows the rules. Stripped down to a tragic piano ballad, this song and its presentation in the show should emphasize the true dangers of staying in toxic relationships.

Britney Spears - Toxic (Official Music Video)

"Stronger": This would be great for the moment when Mulan, critical of the second-wave feminists, decides to go rogue. While on the way, she meets the seminal Eighth Dwarf, who teaches her all about intersectionality and third-wave feminism while calling attention to people who have been left out of traditional narratives; here would be a good place for Mulan to realize that she might be non-binary.

"Oops… I Did It Again": This song would work well for the moment the audience discovers that the Eighth Dwarf is actually a traitor in allegiance with the narrator and the evil stepmother. Together, they're dedicated to passing down the same narratives through generations, to preserve tradition, order, and white supremacy; and once again, they've succeeded...or so they think.

"Baby One More Time": The musical is called Once Upon a One More Time, after all, so this song will almost definitely be the finale and/or curtain call. It will hopefully feature the slaying of the musical's villains, a dance number, and a reconciliatory kiss between Cinderella and Mulan. Perhaps, at the end, they'll get married onstage (hopefully both wearing suits) and their vows could include denouncing gender and proclaiming their allegiance to intersectional feminism and environmental activism. Weary but full of love, they could promise each other that they will always be willing to jump back into the fight, no matter how many times the patriarchy hits them, baby, one more time.

Hopefully, the Broadway team takes note of the nuanced and cohesive narrative outlined in this article and utilize it to tell the most meaningful story possible. Hopefully, they won't misuse their massive platform to create a tribute to white, capitalist-based feminism, and will instead transform these historically oppressive fairytales into stories that actually empower all women, especially those left out of the traditional narratives.

Once Upon a One More Time opens April 12 in Chicago. Until then, we'll be pumping Britney full-volume.

Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.

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