I recently watched Mulan on a DVD which was buried in my home’s cabinets which are built around our flat TV screen. I truly enjoyed the viewing experience: it brought back floods of memories from when i was sub-10 years old and the world around me was still so sparkly, imaginative, and vivid.
Toward the beginning of the film, I watched it for pure pleasure, getting lost in the beautiful Disney cartoon artistry which the brand is so well-known for. As i read along, however, focusing on the script itself, i found there were particular scenes which appeared that screamed ‘appropriation’ of Asian culture recall Lippi Green’s words written in her textbook titled Discrimination and Accents in the US. I put appropriation in
dashes because it is a topic i’d like to further elaborate upon:
Cultural ‘appropriation’ is present everywhere, and almost every item used by Caucasian Americans has a different cultural background than their own. Examples: burritos [Caucasians call them ‘Mexican’ items of consumption despite the
food being a purely Caucasian American imposition.], and the Latinx music industry [Justin Bieber’s new song, Despacito, is actually a remix of a song created by Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi, but American girls everywhere love to rock out to this new track, pretending to know the Spanish lyrics.] Latinx is now ‘cool’ in the eye of the consumer. I suppose that is better than stereotyping them and assuming every Spanish/Latinx-language word can be uttered by the simple implementation of a postvocalic -o. The song which I linked in the previous blue-lettered phrase presents a perfect example of the subject of Caucasian appropriation of a minority’s culture. In this piece, the social fact/norm that ‘appropriation’ is prevalent everywhere is being looked at from a neutral stance.
Asians, at least to the majority of Americans (think Donald,) are considered the ‘model minority’ portion of the American population. *note: click on the blue-lettered ‘Donald’ link in the previous sentence to take a look at how i feel about this whole political swamp ordeal America has gotten itself into.*
Now, back to Mulan and traditional Chinese culture: Throughout the film, Caucasian American (Standard American English, *SAE), African American Vernacular English, and traditional Chinese culture are seamlessly appropriated into the plot.
Let’s start with Mushu, who is played by Eddie Murphy, a prominent African American actor. Why would Disney make Mulan’s guardian spirit an AAVE vernacular-speaking character? To start, let me clarify his role in the film: he is the ‘guardian spirit’, which the spirits of her
passed family send to protect her when they find out she cut off her long black hair and stole her frail father’s military uniform which he was preparing to don when he left for war against Attila the Hun and his military. While in training with the Chinese military, Mulan met and became close with several Chinese soldiers, all expressing stereotypical characteristics of a Chinese individual perhaps living during this period.
The most comical element of the film is illustrated throughout the film through her actions and behaviors she portrayed when interacting with the group’s leader, Li
Shang (a starring Chinese Character who is in fact played by a Caucasian male named Donny Osmond), general of the Imperial army who she eventually ends up saving when the Huns attack their emperor’s palace during a supposed victory celebration. AND, he ends up falling for her despite her gender previously being revealed to her fellow military men. Immediately when they found out, she repulsed them for not doing her ‘good girl duties’ (as in staying home) assigned to Chinese women during the Northern Wei dynasty, so they walked off without her, leaving Mulan out in the freezing snow with her horse, expecting her to fend for herself, illustrating the appropriation of traditional dynastic Chinese culture. This scene reflects Disney’s central stereotype assigned to the Chinese culture; that it is ultimately patriarchal in nature and illustrates the dominance males had over females during this dynastic era.
It’s no wonder Disney appropriated the patriarchy in this film: that was a true facet in Chinese (and let’s not forget American) culture during the dynastic era. Today, the East continues to be Westernized; (because Trump is attempting to take over the world) and must keep up with the new cultural trends being spewed in it’s direction from its neighbors.
The story can be traced back to The Ballad of Mulan. Another (Chinese, not Disney) ending of the legend of Mulan details her being taken from her dynasty by emperor Yang of Sui China of another, who held her as a concubine in his palace. Grim, huh? Disney sure loves to add some sugar and spice to its films and i’ll go as far to say that the businesses’ entire brand is built off of the tasteful (to the masses) and careful appropriation of global cultures.
Lippi-Green, Rosine. Discrimination and Accents in the U.S.