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Mulan: Just Another Princess This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“Mulan,” the animated Disney movie based on the ancient Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, is just another racist, sexist product of this giant corporation. As a child, Mulan was my all-time favorite movie – finally a ­Disney title character who wasn't blond-haired and blue-eyed! I could identify with Mulan because she looked like me. Although I am Korean rather than Chinese, I felt represented in this movie. As a five-year-old, I loved that Mulan wasn't waiting in a tower for her prince to save her.
I reveled in the fact that her life goal wasn't to go to some medieval version
of the prom and wear glass slippers.

Recently, I watched the movie again with the knowledge I have today. Lo and behold, I was disappointed in both the movie and myself for ever believing it was feminist or politically correct. Sure, the graphics are great. The setting is made with Disney's trademark precision and beauty. But even so, I was ­appalled.

Don't get me wrong, “Mulan” is a giant step forward in terms of feminism and racial equality … for Disney, that is. For the rest of the world? Not so much.

First of all, every character has a similar appearance: slanted eyes, short limbs, and a flat nose. The only factors that differentiate them are gender and hair style. Also, China's arch-nemesis, Shan-Yu, and the rest of his Hun buddies have faces that are rather more … ethnic. They have eyes you can barely see, gray skin, and a sickly appearance. They are either hulkingly huge or way too skinny. The appearance of all these characters, in my opinion, perpetuates Western stereotypes of Asians. According to Disney, all Asians look the same. In addition, if an Asian character is evil, he will simply look even more Asian.

Aside from the mild racism in “Mulan,” there is also a bit of sexism mixed in. “Mulan” has been hailed as a feminist Disney movie because it showcases a young woman who leads China to victory using her quick wit, pride, and a strong sense of family honor – all while masquerading as a man named Ping. Even though Mulan (as Ping) gains the respect of the army commander and her comrades, once they discover that she is a woman, her army commander and potential love-interest, Shang, loses respect for her and even hates her.

“Ping” had been doing an even better job than Shang, but when Shang finds out Ping is a woman, his stupid male ego breaks on impact. Mulan is sentenced to death, and Shang, the macho man of the film, ultimately gets to decide her fate. The only reason she survives is because Shang decides he'd rather just send her home. Wow. To add insult to ­injury, at the end of the film, Shang fixes up his shattered ego by claiming Mulan as a suitor.

Even as Mulan is being praised and cheered in the Forbidden City after she almost single-handedly saves China (this time, as a woman), at the end of the film, the audience is reminded that Mulan is really just another woman looking for a man. Mulan's real victory isn't saving her country from invasion. No, it's marrying Shang.

The fact that this is a movie I grew up idolizing makes me sad. All in all, “Mulan” perpetuates Western stereotypes of Asian culture and very quietly shows that even a successful woman will need a man at the end of the day. This movie is, admittedly, much better in terms of gender equality and world cultures than previous Disney movies, but that doesn't change its subtle messages. As a proud Asian girl, I'd like to inform Disney that my family's honor does not come from marriage, but from our achievements.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 23 comments. Post your own now!

WeLookAlike said...
Sep. 15 at 8:37 am
You just said that Koreans look like Chinese people in your first paragraph then say that Westerners think all Asians look alike. Well, they do in the same way that white people look alike and black people look alike because they both have white and black skin @Sobriquet
 
alaska said...
Aug. 21 at 11:26 pm
I don't think that the movie promotes gender stereotypes, but rather that it raises awareness of social norms in history. Also, just because Mulan loves Shang and needs doesn't mean that she's weak. She still cares for other things, such as her family. She seems fine after her dad accepts her, even without Shang standing by her side. Plus, in the end, Shang finds Mulan, so while you may say this movie shows girls needing a man in their life, it isn't exactly sexist, because he cares for her as w... (more »)
 
Sargun said...
Jan. 15, 2015 at 7:20 pm
I get your point but I kinda have to disagree. I'm a 14 year old Sikh and in our religion women are seen to have more divine qualities than men do (no offence to all guys out there). So I would like to point out a few flaws in this well written article. First of all Sure the characters all have similar features but how else is disney going to portray a movie with an Asian background. Trust me it's very hard for a cartoonist to portray a certain ethnic background if they don't have the most commo... (more »)
 
Missock said...
Oct. 19, 2014 at 6:59 pm
I don't understand your miff over the Mulan-Shang relationship. Are strong, independent and capable women not allowed to fall in love?
 
Sobriquet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Eep! These comments hurt for someone who's used to peope sugar coating everything XD 

Thanks for the insight, everyone! I'll use your tips to create better articles for the future!

 
TaHa404 said...
Jul. 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm
I completely disagree with your article. I am also Korean, and, similarly to you, I felt a special connection with this movie because Mulan was the first and only Asian Disney princess. I think that the movie demonstrated how a girl could overcome sexism and anti-feminism in a very sexist, anti-feminist environment. Another thing to note: this story takes place hundreds of years ago, and these steryotypes and "unwritten laws" are much less common in China today. Another note: Shang admires Mulan... (more »)
 
ChelseaH replied...
Dec. 7, 2011 at 12:13 am
I also do agree with your opinion but in my perspective, I always see Disney movies as a source of entertainment for the young audiences but if you actually take the time to see how the filmmakers portray each characters, perhaps you'll might understand why she posted this. Besides, there are many students who are required to find a children's movie and write/critique on the piece of entertainment. 
 
AliciaH This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jul. 3, 2011 at 1:02 am
I really enjoyed this article -- I think it shows a lot of thought and insight, and I agree that Mulan does promote negative images of Asia. (And of course, I can relate to the experience of growing up and taking issue with this particular movie TeenInk.com/hot_topics/pride_prejudice/article/81822/Reflections-on-Mulan/?page=1 ;])
 
Sobriquet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Thanks so much! 

I thought I was the only one that held this opinion hahaha I couldn't find many others with the same views! 

 
AliciaH This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 8, 2012 at 11:46 am
Even though it is an entertaining movie, it's definitely nice to know that other people pick up on how problematic it is. And I think it's great that your essay has inspired so much discussion!
 
freeflow23 said...
Jul. 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm
Very well written and thorough (even though I disagree a bit).
 
Sobriquet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm
Thank you :)
 
Sandra replied...
Jan. 4, 2012 at 7:28 pm
that was not fully a complement.
 
Sobriquet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 23, 2012 at 4:58 am
Yes, it truly was not a "complement". Yo, it's "compliment". Also, that was a compliment because the original commenter was very respectful and kind about my writing abilities.
 
mikey2.0 said...
Apr. 29, 2011 at 9:49 am
They weren't mad at her for being a woman. They were mad at her for lying to them. So, what? You wouldn't be hurt if you found out that your best friend or someone you trust had been lying to you the whole time they knew you? I highly doubt it. They were hurt and they reacted the wrong way. 
 
Sobriquet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 27, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Thanks for the feedback! I never saw it that way, but that does make a lot of sense, although I still think it was mostly because she was a woman.

Dang, I didn't even know my story was in the magazine haha Anyway, yeah, I totally get your point.

 
WritingAngel20 said...
Apr. 22, 2011 at 11:39 am
Okay, I see your point but I disagree some, it is a good movie and it is one of the better Disney movies (second to Lilo and Stitch in my opinion) and that's how it was it china and looking for a man isn't a bad thing, a woman can still be independent even if she is in a relationship or married.
 
Mydagirl replied...
Apr. 27, 2011 at 4:31 am
i agree with the original coment, women were opressed for centuarys and we needed to break free
 
TheJust This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 22, 2011 at 8:12 am
Honestly I think you're wrong. Mulan was about being whoever you wanted to be despite your gender. And the whole stereotypical Asian is because with cartoons you have to overdramatize to show what something is. If they just drew them with light skin and black hair, you wouldn't be able to distinguish them from everyone else. They had to add distinguishing characteristics to tell audiences "Mulan is Chinese" without actually telling them that.
 
Sobriquet This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm
Eh. I get your point, but at the same time, it's not like they made Jasmine extra-hairy or extra nose-y or the black princess (I forgot her name, but she was in the one with the frog) with giant lips/nose/afro. Sorry if I'm offending anyone with this, but I'm just stating stereotypes. Anyway, it seems that they only exaggerate the Asian features, although I might have to brush up on my Disney knowledge a bit more :p
 
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