Disney’s newest addition to their live-action collection of films, Mulan, was finally released earlier this month after a six-month delay. Due to COVID-19 and theatres being closed, the film was made available to stream on the Disney+ platform and quickly became the subject of controversy across several social media platforms.
Aside from the general low-rated reviews from Chinese and North American audiences, the movie has also been boycotted globally. The boycott is primarily due to Mulan’s lead actress’ (Yifei Liu) support for the Hong Kong police. Moreover, one of the filming locations includes China’s Xinjiang region, where an estimated one million Uighurs, a minority ethnic group, are held captive and undergoing ethnic cleansing and forced sterilization.
Mulan was initially known to be a Chinese folktale, coming from a line of folk songs and stage adaptations. It was later adapted by Disney and released as an animated film in 1998. Over the years, the animated Mulan has become a celebrated film, symbolizing strength and courage (though it is also argued that Mulan further portrays women’s purpose to serve the patriarchy, but that is a discussion for another day).
However, Disney’s announcement of the live-action film brought about substantial backlash before and following its release, turning Mulan into a political controversy rather than an action-adventure movie.
Adding Mulan to the growing list of Disney controversies, the movie leaves quite a strong impression of Disney’s moral standpoints. After a long history of sexism, racial stereotyping, and eating disorder jokes—just to name a few, working with a government conducting ethnic cleansing is a new low for the media conglomerate. For many, including myself, this is an eyeopener to reevaluate my support for companies with low moral compasses.
Holding such an influential name and vast resources, Disney undoubtedly had many location alternatives that would be more ethically responsible, whether that means filming in a similar geographical location or using their renowned special effects. Which then begs the question of why Disney would intentionally go to the Xinjiang region amid reports of severe human rights abuses?
Many have come forward to dismiss this argument with the claim that the filming was most likely done years beforehand and not in the political landscape we know today. Yet, the Xinjiang re-education camps (officially called Vocational Education and Training Centers) have been known to be conducting these practices since 2017, while Mulan began filming August 2018.
It is common to immediately come forward and defend such actions, especially when it comes to movies, shows, and toys associated with beloved childhood memories. Coming to realize that perhaps those magical moments were actually created with deeply rooted ignorance and a disregard for peoples’ identities is a tough pill to swallow.
That being said, is it sensible to boycott every movie with a connection to ethically unjust authorities? Finding out a new ugly truth now seems to be a nearly daily occurrence thanks to the large presence of social media and on-demand news. There always seems to be something unpleasant behind a favourite public figure or a multimillion-dollar corporation, and there probably always will be, so where do we draw the line?
The responsibility falls to consumers. Often, opinions are formed based on personal circumstances, and specific issues are more potent to individuals because of proximity. However, people need to realize that consumerism comes with a responsibility that pushes us to reflect on our own moral compass. Most people would agree that the most fundamental line is drawn at murder and genocide, so why is Mulan any different?
Ultimately, large corporations need to be held accountable. Their primary focus is to make a profit by providing consumers what they want. If consumers show their firm conviction for positive change, companies will deliver. We often hear that as long as the “big guys” continue to make money off the less fortunate, there can’t be a long-term change, but that places us in an unnecessary perpetual cycle.
The release of Mulan provides consumers worldwide with an excellent opportunity to start demanding change. Consumers have power. A power that should be wielded for good. Now is the time to make use of that power.