Disney bucks Hollywood whitewashing, casts Chinese actress as Mulan

Global Business

Fans are cheering Disney’s choice of a Chinese actress for the live-action remake of “Mulan.” Hollywood has often struggled with diversity in casting. Many hope this is a sign of better roles to come.
CGTN’s Patrice Howard reports from Los Angeles.

Follow Patrice Howard on Twitter @PatriceReports

Disney’s Mulan tells the story of a young Chinese woman who disguises herself as a man to take her father’s place in the army. Two decades after its initial release, this animated classic is getting a live action remake – with Chinese actress Liu Yifei in the title role.

The casting choice was met with celebration in China. As one woman put it, “I think this is something great for China. I think this is a very good thing and something for us, the Chinese people, to be proud of.”

In the U.S., many Mulan fans were relieved to see an Asian actress picked for the leading role, given a number of Hollywood films have come under fire recently for whitewashing or casting white actors in Asian roles.

Examples include Scarlett Johansson’s leading role in a remake of the Japanese anime “Ghost in the Shell,” and Emma Stone playing a partially Chinese character in “Aloha.”

When the live-action Mulan was announced, a viral online campaign and petition called on executives to choose an Asian actress for the lead. Some industry experts said Disney has a better record than some production companies.

Scott Eriksson, a talent manager, put it this way: “Disney and Nickelodeon both have been very impressive with their teen programming and the diversity of it and hiring Asian Americans.”

Mr. Ericksson co-founded Asian Cinema Entertainment as a means to develop projects featuring Asian American actors. He said more studio executives would be wise to follow Disney’s lead and cast characters that are best suited for the role.

“Diversity is good for business because you are taking your films and you expect to make big money overseas, probably more in overseas countries than you are in Hollywood. Everybody wants to see themselves and relate to themselves in film,” Eriksson said.

“So if you have actors from India, from China, from Japan, that’s good.”

Disney/Pixar’s recent animated hit “Coco” broke new ground as the first Pixar film to feature a minority character in the lead role. The live-action Mulan will be Disney’s follow up attempt at a culturally conscious film – one with casting that seems to already reflect the diverse story playing out.