As a nostalgic millennial with a beautiful little daughter, I am the target demographic for Disney films like Mulan (2020). After all, I grew up watching the original Mulan (1998) and singing songs like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.”
Yet Disney is rushing — “swift as the coursing river” — to destroy Mulan. In fact, the latest news about the film is likely to burn the cash Disney spent on the film “with all the strength of a raging fire.”
It seems Disney worked hand-in-glove with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, which reportedly staffs the “re-education camps” where the Chinese Communist Party sends Uyghur Muslims, an ethnic and religious minority. Beijing has allegedly imprisoned 1 million Uyghurs in what China calls de-radicalization and retraining centers. Human rights activists, however, have compared the camps to prisons and worse.
The Uyghurs (the largest Muslim minority targeted) and others are allegedly compelled to denounce their religion, language, and culture and to pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party and President Xi Jinping. According to an Associated Press investigation, Uyghur women are forced to use birth control or undergo involuntary sterilizations.
The credits for Mulan explicitly acknowledge the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau. According to Architectural Digest, the production team “spent months in and around the northwest province of Xinjiang to do legwork research before the cameras rolled.”
“The film does not feature any Uighur characters and refers to Xinjiang in the subtitles as ‘northwest China,’ erasing the region’s independent identity and reflecting Chinese government propaganda that Xinjiang has ‘belonged to China since ancient times,'” Axios reported.
It seems Disney hoped that any connection between Mulan and the oppression of the Uyghurs would remain “mysterious as the dark side of the moon.” If so, the company is sorely mistaken — and calls to boycott the film have risen sharply after this news.
The villains in both the 1998 and 2020 films are tribal leaders from outside China. The first film’s villain was the Hun leader Shan Yu. The Huns mostly ravaged Eastern Europe, but scholars have proposed a link to the Xionghnu people of northern China, who built an empire including modern Xinjiang. The villain in the 2020 film is Bori Khan, a vaguely Mongol character who might be connected to the Uyghurs.
The Uyghur leaders — known as Khans — dominated a large empire in the 700s A.D. The Uyghur Empire negotiated with the Tang Dynasty in China, even exchanging princesses in marriage. The Tang played a role in the Uyghur Empire’s dissolution. In 843, a Tang army attacked the Uyghurs and slaughtered 10,000 of them at “Kill the Barbarians” Mountain (Shahu).
This history raises unsettling questions about the new Mulan film. Is Disney taking the side of the Chinese against the Uyghurs — not just in the here and now by working with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, but also by making the villain vaguely Uyghur? Has Disney chosen the side of the villains?
Disney’s attempts to destroy Mulan
While the Uyghur connection may be Disney’s worst offense regarding the Mulan remake, it followed a “long train of abuses” in my mind.
Disney is on a remake kick lately, and the remakes have gotten progressively more stale. Live-action remakes of the animated films Beauty and the Beast (2017, original 1991) and Aladdin (2019, original 1992) may have been cash cows, but they left viewers like me rather dissatisfied. The remakes largely rehashed the original films, and when Disney attempted to add something, it usually just made the story more convoluted.
Remaking Mulan made some sense. Critics have long attacked the 1998 film for cultural appropriation, and it seems Disney wanted to address those concerns. However, the company may have been better suited to make an entirely different film, rather than rehashing and slicing up aspects of the original.
The remake of Mulan involved gutting the aspects of the film that delighted audiences. Disney decided to remove the musical numbers that made the original film so fun. Disney also cut out some key characters, from the loveable tiny dragon Mushu to the inspiring Li Shang. So as not to be politically incorrect, Disney broke up the character of Li Shang (Mulan’s love interest and her commanding officer) in two: General Tung is her commanding officer and Chen Hongui, a fellow soldier, is her new love interest.
To make matters worse, the actress who plays Mulan, Liu Yifei, praised the Hong Kong police when they engaged in a brutal crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors last year. Liu Yifei later apologized, claiming ignorance of political matters.
Despite all of this, I am curious about the end result of Disney’s new cash-grab. I loved Mulan as a kid and I had hoped the new film could capture some of the original magic. Before the Uyghur news, I was tempted to give the film a chance.
Yet Disney set out on another infuriating cash grab. Since many theaters are limited during the coronavirus pandemic, the company decided to release Mulan on its streaming platform, Disney Plus. As a Disney Plus subscriber, I thought this would be good news.
Then I heard that Disney would charge $30 to watch the movie. Yes, Disney expects people who already subscribe to Disney Plus to fork over more money than they would spend in the theater to watch Mulan at home.
Disney expects Disney Plus subscribers to fork over $30 to watch a remake that cut out the best parts of the original, a film that features an anti-Hong Kong actress, a film with credits that honor the company staffing Uyghur concentration camps. All this from a company that said it would be hard to do business in the U.S. State of Georgia because Georgia passed a law limiting abortion.
Pack up, go home, you’re through. How could I make a movie night out of you?
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.