Let’s get down to business. The casting kerfuffle over Disney’s live-action remake of the 1998 animated hit “Mulan” brings honor to none. It’s a politically correct tempest in a Chinese teapot.
More than 90,000 angry activists have now signed a petition “to tell Disney that we demand to see them cast an Asian Mulan.” The lead instigator, Michigan children’s librarian Natalie Molnar, vented against the practice of “whitewashing” — that is, employing “white Caucasian actors and actresses in roles originally meant to be characters of color.”
Extreme racial and ethnic bean-counting is necessary, even in the remake of a cartoon, the petitioners argue, because “children benefit from finding themselves represented in fiction.”
Skin color-based casting entitlements and quotas: “for the children.” Of course.
Once again, privileged progressives demonstrate how arbitrary, capricious and ridiculous militant identity politics can be. Last year, Asian-American leftists attacked director Cameron Crowe for casting Emma Stone as a mixed-race character in the romantic comedy “Aloha.” It didn’t matter whether Stone pulled off the role. The protesters were too busy administering racial and ethnic litmus tests for employment in the entertainment industry.
This year, grievance-mongers moaned about the casting of mixed-race actress Zoe Saldana as black jazz legend Nina Simone and white actress Scarlett Johansson as a Japanese Manga cartoon figure.
In social justice land, movie-making isn’t about casting the most talented actors, regardless of race or ethnicity. Movie-making isn’t about entertaining customers or making money. Nope.
Movie-making is a never-ending exercise in radical multiculturalism and identity apartheid.
The diversity cops maintain that only the right kind of mixed-race stars should play mixed-race characters. Only the right kind of black actresses should win black roles. And only Asians should be cast in “Mulan” to maintain ethnic realism.
But there’s no rhyme, reason or logic in their demands for authenticity. Take “Mulan.” The original movie was riddled with historical inaccuracies. Based on the legend of teenage warrior Hua Mulan popularized in an ancient Chinese ballad, the heroine disguises herself as a man to take the place of her elderly father in battle — “to defeat the Huns,” as the song from the movie goes.
But the Huns were thousands of miles away sacking Rome and Western Europe. The “Huns” who attacked the legendary Mulan in 6th-century China were mostly likely related to the central Asian Xiongnu tribe in what became Mongolia, which warred with the Han dynasty in the 3rd century. Movie historian Alex von Tunzelmann notes “that was at least a couple [of] hundred of years before Mulan’s time, and in any case the link between the Xiongnu and the Huns is in dispute.”
Unfortunately for social justice warriors, “Let’s get down to business/to defeat the nomadic tribe that was possibly the Xiongnu in the region of Mongolia before it was known as Mongolia” just doesn’t have the same ring as the Disney tune that’s still stuck in my head after 18 years.
Weirdly, the Asian-American liberal entertainment lobby didn’t have a problem with Filipina musical theater star/actress Lea Salonga singing Chinese Mulan’s parts in the original movie. Which raises my still-unanswered question in these well-worn casting wars:
Why is it that the self-appointed Definers of racial and ethnic Authenticity get to pick and choose which historical inaccuracies and inconsistencies to protest or ignore?
Strangely, some of the minority actors and actresses in the “People of Color” tribe that the Demand-y Demanders want to cast in “Mulan” are as authentically Asian as Mulan’s Eddie Murphy-voiced annoying dragon sidekick, Mu Shu.
Oliver S. Wang, an L.A.-based culture writer, tweeted that “The Rock” (Canadian-American actor Dwayne Johnson of Samoan and Black Nova Scotian heritage) should play the “Mongol villain.”
How do you say “Huh???” in Chinese?
Heidi Yeung, editor for a South China Morning Post-owned website, is pushing for Korean-American Daniel Dae Kim to play the villainous role of Shan Yu — in part because he has “almost identical cheekbones to the animated character.” Diversity!
Additionally, she wants Japanese-American George Takei to play the Chinese Emperor and another Korean American, Margaret Cho, to play the Chinese matchmaker.
So because the diversity-mongers’ choices look more vaguely Asian-ish, never mind the vast differences between their nationalities and heritages, they trump other non-Asian actors and actresses who must all step aside and bow down to the gods of ethnic faux-thenticity.
If “whitewash” is the problem, why is fake yellow wash the solution?