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Rumors circulated yesterday that Disney was turning the love interest in the new, live-action film The Legend of Mulan finto a white guy.
According to an anonymous post from an Asian-American film industry insider, the spec script had called for a 30-something European trader to be the romantic lead, instead of Li Shang. The literal white-knight character would live a selfish, greedy life until setting eyes on Mulan, after which he would decide to help the Chinese Imperial Army.
“I am deeply disturbed that a remake of the beloved Disney classic rejects the cultural consciousness of its predecessor by featuring a white male lead, once again perpetuating the myth that cultural stories are not worth telling without a western lens or star,” they wrote on Angry Asian Man. “Instead of seizing the opportunity to highlight a tenacious, complex female warrior, this remake diminishes her agency.” They also pointed out that they’re casting a teenage Chinese girl as Mulan, which brings up some “clear pedophilic implications.”
However, Disney told Vulture today that since that spec script, it has hired new writers and will cast a Chinese man to play the romantic lead:
“The spec script was a jumping-off point for a new take on the story that draws from both the literary ballad of Mulan and Disney’s 1998 animated film,” the source says. “Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story, and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese.”
Whitewashing was something fans have been worried about since Disney announced the live-action version of the film, though most of the concern was around whether Mulan herself would be played by a white woman (Disney reassured Vulture this isn’t happening, either). Naturally, people were pissed about this possible development, especially since Asian representation in media is already slim to none. Not to mention, Mulan is a badass.
The most obvious motivation for changing a Chinese character to a white, European one is to appeal to a white audience. Which is ridiculous because white people love Disney. They make T-shirts for their Disneyworld trips and run marathons around the park and get married wearing Mickey Mouse headbands. Disney could do anything and white people would sing it at karaoke and take quizzes about which character is their Patronus or whatnot.
Thankfully, Disney remembered that before changing the beloved story.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated throughout to reflect Disney’s comments.
Jaya Saxena is a lifestyle writer and editor whose work focuses primarily on women's issues and web culture. Her writing has appeared in GQ, ELLE, the Toast, the New Yorker, Tthe Hairpin, BuzzFeed, Racked, Eater, Catapult, and others. She is the co-author of 'Dad Magazine,' the author of 'The Book Of Lost Recipes,' and the co-author of 'Basic Witches.'