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Disney's newest live-action adaptation of a previously successful animated movie is now available on Disney+ in Mulan. While the film's success or failure will be difficult to gauge due to the current situation, the fact that the movie was made at all is an important step in Asian representation in film, something which the original voice of Mulan, Ming-Na Wen, says was also the case with the animated film, and is still very important today with films like Black Panther starring the late Chadwick Boseman.
Since the very beginning, Disney found success and resonance in its animated feature films by using classic fairy tales. The original story of Mulan is older than many of the European fairy tales that became successful Disney movies, but before it became a Disney movie, the story was largely unknown in the west. Even Ming-Na Wen tells the New York Times that she thought Mulan was a big risk at the time because it was based on a foreign story. In the end, the animated Mulan was a movie that was embraced by the Asian community, something which the actress says she saw happening in a similar way with Black Panther. According to Ming-Na Wen...
I couldn’t have foreseen any of it. At the time, I thought Disney was taking a huge risk by doing an animated film that was ethnically diverse and based on foreign folklore. The fact that it still speaks to the current generation of kids makes me think this movie is going to blow them away. You know, it’s so sad that recently Chadwick Boseman passed away, and just seeing all the love for what he created as the king T’Challa in Black Panther, it’s very affecting, because that’s what Mulan was like for our community and Asians in general.
While the new live-action Mulan is generally getting positive reviews, one of the biggest criticisms, or at least frustrations, with the decision to not give Mulan a traditional theatrical release, even if that meant waiting a considerable period, was that it meant that the film's predominately Asian cast would not get the chance to lead a major tentpole movie release the same way that the cast of Black Panther did. And that certainly is frustrating. Regardless of what happens with Mulan from a financial standpoint, the question of what sort of support the movie would have seen if everything else had been normal will always be a question.
It's also frustrating because Mulan was so clearly designed for a big-screen experience. Ming-Na Wen says she hopes the film gets some sort of limited theatrical engagement when the opportunity is there, because the movie deserves to be seen in a theater.
Still, the success of movies like Black Panther clearly shows that diversity of casting is certainly not a hindrance to success, and can ultimately be a significant benefit. There will hopefully be another Asian-led big-screen blockbuster at some point soon.