A collective cheer went up earlier this year when Disney confirmed that its upcoming live-action remake of Mulan, a fiercely feminist cartoon set in ancient China, would feature both an all-Asian cast and a female director.
The news was particularly welcome given the various whitewashing controversies that have recently erupted in Hollywood. In the last 12 months alone, the world has debated the ethics of Tilda Swinton playing The Ancient One (traditionally a Himalayan character) in Doctor Strange, Scarlett Johansson taking the lead in Japanese manga-inspired The Ghost in the Shell, and Matt Damon being cast in the The Great Wall (an forthcoming epic set around, you guessed it, the Great Wall of China).
Director Niki Caro, meanwhile, will be only the fourth woman in history to helm a live-action film with a budget over $100 million.
So, yes: three cheers for Mulan’s racially representative and historically accurate casting, and three cheers for woman directors. But Disney fans are a sensitive bunch, and the latest Mulan news has been greeted with… well, rather less enthusiasm.
Caro has revealed that her remake of the classic cartoon will not be a musical – and people are not happy.
“From what I understand, [there are] no songs right now,” Caro tells MovieFone.
The New Zealand-born director is well aware that she is stepping into dangerous territory by removing Mulan’s well-loved soundtrack. She says that her two young daughters, Tui and Pearl, reacted in “horror” when she told them that her version of Mulan wouldn’t include songs like I’ll Make a Man Out of You and Reflections.
Caro’s version of Mulan, she says, will be “a big, girly martial arts epic. It will be extremely muscular and thrilling and entertaining and moving.”
To make matters worse in the eyes of many Disney fans, a casting sheet recently circulated online that appears to shows that Mulan’s love interest, Captain Li Shang, will not feature in the live-action remake.
Our heroine will instead fall for Chen Honghui, a “strapping, cocky and handsome” soldier who sees her as a rival until he discovers she is a woman.
LISTEN. We can't have a Mulan live action remake without songs. Or Captain Li Shang. WHAT IS DISNEY THINKING?— t a r a 🐰 태라 (@tarafrejas) March 22, 2017
Many have suggested that the removal of Li Shang is related to the fact that he was widely considered to be Disney’s first bisexual character. In the 1998 cartoon version of Mulan, Shang and Mulan initially grow close when she is still in disguise as ‘Ping’, Mulan’s male alter-ego – prompting fans to question whether Disney is trying to avoid exploring this complex narrative in the live-action remake.
so...mulan's new love interest doesn't like her until after she's revealed to be a woman....... justice for bisexual icon li shang— sami (@ezekielfiguero) March 20, 2017
im mad that the new character hates mulan until he finds out she's a woman. SHANG LOVED HER WHEN SHE WAS PING AND MULAN— linda (@khmurk) March 20, 2017
One aggrieved fan even went so far as to amend Caro’s Wikipedia page:
Despite people’s fears, Caro seems like a relatively safe pair of hands to tell Mulan’s story. The director has form when it comes to making films about adventurous young women who set out to defy conventional gender roles: her most successful film to date was 2002’s all-around wonderful Whale Rider, about a 12-year-old Maori girl who challenges her grandfather’s belief that only men can be chief of their tribe.
The live-action Mulan is currently slated for release in 2018. There is currently no word on whether Mushu the dragon will make an appearance, but we’ll keep you posted.
Main image: Disney