As far as Disney movies go, one that is seemingly infallible from criticism is 1998’s Mulan. A woman of color protagonist? A stick-it-to-the-guys type feminist who saves China (and her father from certain death)?? LITERALLY NO WHITE PEOPLE???*
But alas, this movie has a great many flaws (as all Disney movies do). And Rebecca and I endeavor to go through them with you. (You’re welcome). So sit back and enjoy the ride.
Brianna: Omg how did I forget the Great Wall of China was in this movie? LOL
Rebecca: Literally what if a movie about the US drew English words that turned into like the Statue of Liberty. That’s dumb AF.
Rebecca: Omg my kids keep talking to me. I yelled “I’m working!!” and then had to explain what you and I were doing and they made fun of me a lot.
Brianna: Look how dark the villain is compared to the not villains.
Rebecca: Dude the emperor’s assistant or whatever is so flamboyant.
Brianna: OH LOOK, ANOTHER FLAMBOYANT SIDEKICK (see our past post on Pocahantas)
Rebecca: Why are unlikable Disney characters always flamboyant? Also wtf why is the emperor a fortune cookie.
Brianna: He’s literally talking platitudes about rice.
Rebecca: Mulan’s dad being all “Why isn’t my daughter fuckable???”
Ugh, Mulan has no chill.
Brianna: She really doesn’t.
Rebecca: Her skin is so light.
Brianna: “Why everybody got an Asian accent but her”- Brad
Rebecca: Like, their whole family is so white. Is her grandma Betty White??
Brianna: But like literally. Is she? And grandma also has no chill.
Note: She was not Betty White. She was voiced by June Foray
Brianna: That’s a buff ass horse.
Rebecca: How old is Mulan? 16?
Brianna: Hmm…I have no idea. But, “Recipe for an instant bride” is an actual song lyric.
Rebecca: There’s so much idealization of Western culture, though. Like, it’s clearly misogynistic and the audience is supposed to realize that, I think.
Brianna: Right. Like I think it’s supposed to empathize that Mulan is not about that life.
Rebecca: But I feel like that’s assuming Western White men didn’t also own their wives. Like, we’re so quick to call out other (not white) culture’s misogyny.
Brianna: Yes. So much yes.
Rebecca: Like, she’s this feminist icon because she’s super individualistic, re: white.
Brianna: Agh noooo you’re right.
Rebecca: Like actually now that I think about it, what Disney movie with an arranged marriages plot WASN’T about a woc?
Brianna: FUCK. WHICH ONE.
Rebecca: Mulan, Pocahontas, Aladdin…
Rebecca: Is there any other???
Brianna: Also, can we talk about how masculine the matchmaker is?? And she’s supposed to be super unlikable, too.
Rebecca: Right? Like oooh dumb, ugly, matchmaking woman.
SHE LITERALLY HAS A MUSTACHE. Dude this is so transphobic and racist and sexist ugh.
Brianna: YIKES IT SO IS.
Rebecca: Mulan gives some solid dieting advice, though. Reflect before you snack!
Rebecca: When will my reflection show what I ate inside.
Brianna: I know all the words to all the songs still. Wow, I’m cool.
Rebecca: Same though. As much as I’m prepared to tear this movie apart, I love it so much.
Brianna: LOVE IT SO HARD.
Rebecca: This scene is so complicated because it’s not BAD to look at these genuine self-esteem issues for young girls. But it has so many racist undertones.
Brianna: *Rubs off makeup.* *Still has rosy cheeks* lawl
Rebecca: Lololol is her dad talking about her chest? Don’t worry girl, you’ll bloom one day.
Ew go away, dad. #rapeculture
Brianna: All of the men literally speak in fortune cookie fortunes
Rebecca: You’ll be fuckable one day!!
Brianna: I think the flamboyant guy is Mr. Chang from the hangover. PLEASE BE SO.
Note: He’s not. He’s voiced by James Hong 😦
Brianna: Yo, were they really gonna send an old man to war tho. Like…he’s old af. He’s got a pimp/limp walk, too. #pimpwalklimpwalk
Rebecca: It’s so weird because like this is definitely all fucked. I just feel like there’s this undertone of like, “ooooh the backwards Chinese folk!” When like, women couldn’t talk or fight or anything in the Western world, either.
Brianna: “Oh they’re dumb af about honor!”
Brianna: Was there a Western world when this is supposed to take place?
Rebecca: When does this take place?
Brianna: I wanna say Han(?) dynasty China. Like, really old. Ima consult Google.
Brianna: “Know your place, bitch”- Mulan’s dad.
Rebecca: *slowly chants in the background* patriarchy harms men, too. PATRIARCHY HARMS MEN, TOO.
Brianna: Okay yeah, 420-589 AD Old AF AF
Rebecca: Oooh yeah, that’s hella old. Kind of like this 80s inspirational soundtrack going on right now.
Brianna: I NEED A WORKOUT MONTAGE.
Brianna: He can’t wake up when his daughter steals his war shit but he wanted to fight in a war? LOL okay.
Rebecca: Wait Mulan’s mom looks just like Miriam in the Prince of Egypt.
Brianna: Omg plot twist.
Rebecca: THEY’RE SO WHITE.
Brianna: I forgot how much Eddie Murphy makes this movie.
Rebecca: Have you read the Chris Rock quote that’s like, “cartoons are great you can play anyone. For example black people can be donkeys or dragons”
Brianna: THAT MAIN ANCESTOR IS GEORGE TAKEI DHSHFDHHFUUDFHDH
Note: he actually was tho.
Rebecca: I wish I knew more about the actual history because I’m sure there are some sassy little jokes here. Like in Hercules.
Brianna: Said with great disdain: “Your son used to cross dress” LITERAL TRANSPHOBIA THOUGH.
Rebecca: No one in this movie has any chill.
Rebecca: Eddie Murphy’s character is literally named Moo Shoo. Holy shit.
Brianna: What do you make of the fact that the most disgraced ancestor protector guy is black?
Rebecca: Also that he’s the major comic relief. Like the animal sidekick for comic relief.
Brianna: And he’s funny but like…
Rebecca: This movie is so dark though. Disney movies are fucking dark. Like, that town is on FIRE.
Brianna: Right. And speaking of dark, the Huns are dark AF.
Rebecca: Also that main bad guys eyes are yellow. Like he looks like his hawk.
Brianna: He has FANGS.
Rebecca: YOU HEAR THAT DONALD TRUMP?? BY BUILDING THAT WALL YOU CHALLENGE STRENGTH.
Rebecca: Okay, I know it’s really dark that they killed the second messenger but I just cackled. Oops, I’m evil maybe.
Brianna: This black church moment right now.
Rebecca: Like, gospel music and everything.
Brianna: Also, it’s worth noting that the guy who plays the Hun leader is Latino IRL.
Rebecca: All non whites are the same, duh.
Brianna: I think there might be a really interesting thing to mine from this. Like, what does it take for Mulan to pass?
Rebecca: Yeah. and also the acceptance of the story because she’s not actually into drag or trans. So it’s acceptable for the audience to root for her.
Brianna: LOL Brad says all the dudes are stupid af.
Rebecca: HE JUST SAID TOFU. AMI MOMMY TOFU.
Brianna: WHAT EVEN.
Brianna: ALSO, DICK JOKE ON FLEEK. “Limp noodle.”
Rebecca: There are so many caricatures and stereotypes I cannot even begin.
Brianna: Right. Also Mulan always likes her commanding dude. But he isn’t interested because he thinks she’s a man. But as soon as he learns she’s a woman he’s about it. Hmmmmm.
Rebecca: But doesnt he kind of have a crush on her when he thinks she’s a guy? Like, it’s kind of great. He’s kind of gay. And freaking out because he’s maybe kind of gay.
Brianna: BD Wong is gay! His voice! He’s also the dopest SVU character. Have you gathered I watch too much TV/movies? #Whoops
Rebecca: Mulan’s dude voice is so great.
Brianna: Her male stereotypes. LOL
Rebecca: Right? Fix things. Kill things.
Brianna: COOK OUTDOORS.
Rebecca: Mulan’s face when he takes off his shirt, though. Honestly, same.
Rebecca: hahahaha feminine men! Classic!
Brianna: HILARIOUS. IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE WOMEN ARE INFERIOR.
Brianna: “How could I make a man out of you?” he says to a woman.
Rebecca: That individualism is what saves her, though. Like oooo he said I have to leave but I climbed the thing anyway.
Brianna: SLAY BITCH. KICK HIM IN THE FACE.
Rebecca: Side note, they should really make a disney movie about Ayn Rand. That would be a great review.
Brianna: Okay but why does the villain sound so Latino. And have yellow eyes. And claws. He literally look like a monster?
Rebecca: Hahaha there are a “couple of things” that will give me away. A COUPLE THINGS. BREASTS. HAHAHA BOOBIES.
Brianna: “There are so many dongs out right now”-Brad
Rebecca: Ugh, men are so gross.
Rebecca: Dude, who can blame her?
Brianna: Homeboy needs to chill.
Rebecca: This movie is a really interesting example of equality vs. liberation. Like, the goal of the movie is for Mulan to be equal enough to murder people.
Brianna: LOL, right.
Rebecca: Not to like, reexamine the value of violent masculine traits.
Brianna: WAS THAT GUY A WOMAN, TOO? HIS TOWEL WAS UP TO HIS BOOBIES AND HE HAD A TOWEL AROUND HIS HAIR. The flamboyant dude!
Rebecca: No, no, I don’t think so. I think the joke is he’s just sooo flamboyant and feminine and we’re supposed to think it’s funny.
Brianna: This song, though. “I want her paler than the moon”
Rebecca: Hahahaha, the fat man doesn’t like sex he likes to EAT. Also the women giggling at that cat call.
Rebecca: Yo, but how much do you wanna bet that flamboyant guys girlfriend lives in Canada. They’re just like really long distance right now, but she’s so great, and totally real.
Brianna: Oh hey, and reality check of war.
Rebecca: Wow, people die!! War is fucked!!!
Brianna: This is super bleak and awful.
Rebecca: Look at that! It’s almost like we shouldn’t celebrate violent masculinity! It’s almost like it leads to murder!
Brianna: Ooh shit, his dad is dead.
Rebecca: That doll gives me so many feels, though.
Brianna: LOL Mulan sucks at war. Also, in the Mulan legend she’s away at war for 12 years and she’s never found out to be a lady. And it’s only revealed when she goes home and puts on her lady clothes.
Rebecca: 12 years/2 weeks. Honestly, same thing.
Rebecca: The bad guy is so majestic, though. Like dang, look at that hair blowing.
Rebecca: I like this scene because I like to think it represents breaking away from violent masculine thought. I mean okay, like maybe not a great example since it’s still hella violent. But like…it’s creative murder with a feminine touch!!
Rebecca: Okay but Shang definitely digs Ping at this point. GAAAAAAYYYYY.
Brianna: Right?! Also, I’m upset there isn’t a single shihtzu in this movie. They’re Chinese dogs (my dog is a shihtzu)!
Rebecca: The lack of well-rounded dog representation in the media really gets to me, man.
Brianna: He super loves this movie. Except not, because he isn’t represented.
Brianna: “You the man! Well…sort of”
Rebecca: Okay, but I wanna dissect this. Like, it’s so extraordinary that she’s so skilled because she’s a woman. Like it’s not just “oh, she’s strong, cool” or whatever.
Brianna: Like, me and my lady brain can’t do nothin right.
Rebecca: We’re supposed to support her being in an army (so like, still fucked) because she’s THE strongest of them. And that’s so amazing because she’s a WOMAN.
Brianna: THE BOOBIE MUSIC. LOLOLOLOL
Rebecca: Everyone is just staring at her tits…
Rebecca: Shang’s so mad because she made him think he was gay.
Brianna: Lol why is this the law, tho. “Women must be executed because they’re women.”
Rebecca: That’s a very specific law, too. “If a woman cross dresses and tries to join the army but we see her boobies she MUST BE DECAPITATED”
Brianna: Ah, yes. Article 2 of section 6.
Brianna: Lol moo shoo eating the dumpling by the tiny cricket fire.
Rebecca: Wait, I really hope that horse is actually a sheep. Like, the secret backstory of this whole movie is actually about the sheep’s journey to horsedom.
Brianna: Ugh, this fucking falcon.
Rebecca: Oh, lol I called it a hawk earlier.
Brianna: I have no idea what it is.
Rebeca: Birds are so confusing.
Rebecca: Are these bad guys zombies, though? Why are there only six of them? Why does that guy have a bladin mullet?
Brianna: How are they shirtless and survived an avalanche?
Rebecca: I have so many questions.
Brianna: “Why is Mulan different than Ping?” Cause misogyny.
Rebecca: There are so many defiant stares in this scene.
Brianna: So like, I guess they live every day like it’s Chinese New Year???
Rebecca: That’s a great life motto. Live every day like it’s Chinese New Year!!
Rebecca: The emperor reminds me of Dumbledore.
Brianna: That bad guy is such a Trojan…uhh…Chinese Horse!
Rebecca: He was even perched like a bird. IS HE PART BIRD??
Brianna: That’s the actual plot twist.
Rebecca: The horse is a sheep. The man is a bird. And now, the men are dressed like WOMEN.
Brianna: Why isn’t the captain dressed in drag, tho.
Rebecca: Because he’s too sexy, Brianna. U can’t cover those guns.
Brianna: Even the whites of the evil guys eyes are black. Wtf.
Brianna: THE EMPEROR LITERALLY ONLY SPEAKS IN FORTUNE COOKIE SAYINGS.
Rebecca: I like that the cricket doesn’t have a name. Just cricket.
Brianna: LOL. The dog’s name is little brother. Which is funny because in the legend she has a little brother.
Rebecca: The emperor is literally Dumbledore. This is like an end of the year Dumbledore speech.
Brianna: TEN POINTS TO RAVENCLAW.
Rebecca: It’s weird how she did all this for her family and just wants to go home. Because like, that’s not a BAD thing. It’s not wrong that they have her value family or anything. But, it’s also enforcing gender roles.
Brianna: Right. Like, come on.
Rebecca: Also: “you fight good.” MEN ARE BASIC ACROSS ALL CULTURES.
Brianna: Grandma is so fucking thirsty.
Rebecca: I could pretend I’m not rocking out to this ending song, but I’d be lying.
With trans identity being a much-needed topic in the national conversation, I’ve found myself wondering, as a ciswoman, why, I am always read as female, regardless of how short my hair may be, how baggy my clothes are, what sports I’ve played, and how deep and raspy of a voice I have.
I’m not sure I’ve come to any good conclusions (sorry!) but watching Mulan made me realize how little thought was given to the making of this movie. Though the movie has many instances of transphobia and mentions of cross dressing, all Mulan has to do to pass as male is cut her hair (from long to medium length) and wear armor. That’s literally it. You’d think there’d be very little transantagonistic violence in the world, given that all anyone apparently must do is wear gendered clothing of what gender they are/wish to be.
But we all know it isn’t that simple.
Additionally, I’ve always felt it important to acknowledge our general feelings regarding femininity and women are evident in how we approach cross dressing women, homosexual women, and masculine women. Though in our heteronormative society we prefer women to be somewhat feminine, we much more quickly accept little girls who are tomboys before little boys who are “effeminate” or like “girl” things. We much morequickly accept women who date and/or have sex with women (just look at the polls and stats on lesbian porn) before men who do the same with men. Throughout history we’ve given our daughters names that were previously male names, but there’s no pattern of the reverse. We freely accept, as in the case of the movie Mulan, women giving up their femininity because we don’t value it. But men or boys with the slightest bit of effeminacy are a problem (just look at the emperor’s councilor, or ask a parent why their little boy can’t wear pink or play with dolls).
I also think it’s important to examine the role that white feminism plays in this movie. It’s telling that Mulan is often praised as THE feminist Disney movie. But, so many of the ~empowering~ feminist ideas come at the expense of tearing down people of color. I think (white) Americans revel in the satisfaction from denouncing the “backwards” ideas of non-white, non-Western cultures (re: arranged marriages, community-centered versus individualistic values) while refusing to examine our own culture of misogyny. Mulan finds “empowerment” (more on that, soon) largely denouncing her family’s culture and embracing a very white, very capitalistic, individualistic framework. I’m ready for the Disney movie that challenges the misogyny in white culture, but I’m not holding my breath.
*It’s also worth noting that Mulan has the whitest eyes, and whitest skin of any of the characters- she is very literally modeled after white values.
Critiquing misogyny as a universal experience for women is not a bad thing. Only critiquing misogyny in non-white cultures, and portraying the only escape from the confines of that misogyny in white-centric ways is. Mulan relies heavily on the narrative of equality over liberation. In other words, once Mulan is allowed to stay in the army, feminism wins! Women are equal! But, is a world of “equality” where women are free to adhere to violent masculine norms really the goal of feminism? Some women might say yes. But, to me, true liberation means finding value in the traditional feminine as well as the traditional masculine (not to mention denouncing those gendering dichotomies in the first place). True liberation looks like rejecting the violent, destructive side of hegemonic masculinity, not just inviting girls to join in on the action. So, even though I love singing along to “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” as much as the next guy, I can’t get on board with praising Mulan as a feminist film.