Disney animated films of the ‘80s and ‘90s hold a special place in the hearts of millions of people worldwide. But let’s be honest, they’re not the most diverse productions around, often featuring horrible stereotypes and casting white voice actors in roles meant for People of Color. But with the live-action remakes, it’s clear that Disney has tried to fix those ills, for the most part. That being said, there is still controversy that has followed recent remakes such as “Aladdin” and “Mulan,” particularly when it comes to whitewashing. However, according to the director of “Mulan,” rumors of whitewashing were just that—unfounded rumors.
Speaking to THR, director Niki Caro discussed the controversy surrounding the early days of “Mulan” when rumors abound that Disney was looking to hire white actors in prominent roles (in a film focused on Chinese culture), specifically a report that the original script for the film was centered around a white male protagonist.
Caro explained, “This is the first time I’ve been on a big touchstone movie with the internet what it is today. And I had a Google alert set, so I’d see these things, ‘Oh, there was originally a white male lead, or they’re casting Jennifer Lawrence,’ and they were all just made up.”
As for the debate over whether or not an Asian filmmaker should have landed the directing gig, Caro understands the discussion but feels she’s still a good choice given that “Mulan” has to serve two cultural masters.
“Although it’s a critically important Chinese story and it’s set in Chinese culture and history, there is another culture at play here, which is the culture of Disney, and that the director, whoever they were, needed to be able to handle both — and here I am,” she explained.
Of course, it’s already been reported that Ang Lee was originally asked to helm the “Mulan” remake, but he turned it down. So, at the very least, it’s clear that Disney did attempt to find an Asian filmmaker before signing Caro.
Regardless of the cultural debates, “Mulan” is hitting theaters soon and is the first Disney live-action remake to really take some serious liberties with the animated source material in ways that “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” and others really didn’t. We’ll have to see how the world (minus China, depending on the coronavirus) reacts when the film hits theaters on March 27.