Film Forward

Why Disney’s Casting Choice For A Live-Action ‘Mulan’ Has Fans Breathing A Sigh Of Relief

Now this is reflection.

Disney screened nearly 1,000 candidates across five continents for the title role in its live-action Mulan remake, and the woman who won the part is Chinese actress Liu Yifei, also known as Crystal Liu. The news comes after more than 112,000 people signed a petition asking Disney not to cast a White actor and continue Hollywood's whitewashing trend.

Liu has starred in Chinese films Once Upon a Time and The Assassins, and English-language films The Forbidden Kingdom and Outcast, among many other on-screen credits. She has also served as a brand ambassador for Dior, Garnier, and Pantene.

Announcing the casting of this 30-year-old, The Hollywood Reporter noted the role "requires credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak English, and the most ineffable requirement of all: star quality." The story, based on a Chinese ballad and the 1998 animated Disney film, focuses on a Chinese woman who poses as a man to take her aging father's place in the Chinese army amid a Hun invasion. 

But here's the most important part of the THR story: "In deference to cultural accuracy, the studio focused on locating an ethnically Chinese young woman."

This news wouldn't be as newsworthy if Hollywood didn't have a representation problem on its hands. In film and on TV, Asian characters rarely get the spotlight, and when they do, they're often played by White actors. (See: Aloha's Emma Stone, Doctor Strange's Tilda Swinton, and Ghost in the Shell's Scarlett Johansson, all of whom played characters who were written as Asian or part-Asian in their films' source material.)

"Hollywood has conditioned us to breathe a sigh of relief when an actual Asian actor is cast as an Asian character," tweeted Phil Yu, founder of the Angry Asian Man blog. "We've become sadly resigned to accept that there is, like, a 55% chance that the role will go to a white actor, no matter how ridiculous."

Other Twitter users are celebrating the news, as well — including original Mulan voice actor Ming-Na Wen — and some have their fingers crossed the rest of the cast will be actors of Asian descent, as well. As Li Shang sings in the 1998 version, "Let's get down to business!"

Cover image via Aly Song / Reurters | Disney

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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