Irene Hau, an Asian American based in Texas, likes to explore issues surrounding mental health, medicine, and culture, but her curiosity covers a range of topics so nothing is off limits. That being said, she adopts an inclusive perspective on subjects and aims to be objective, unless called for or to add flair.
When Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan was released, viewers from various communities held differing beliefs and criticism towards the film. Most notably, there was disparity in the blatant missteps taken by the studio - including a botched storyline, support of the aggressively authoritarian Chinese government, as well as the exclusion of Asians behind the screen and in the creative process - and the deep ache from the Asian community to continue the proper representation and respect from the industry after the critical success from Crazy Rich Asians. On one hand, a part of me is unwilling to be complacent in multiple multimillion corporations’ attempts to appease the growing Asian market by capitalizing on Asian customs; it adds a degree of difficulty in wholeheartedly appreciating the multiple facets of Asian media and products. On the other hand, I find my childhood self welcoming the new adaptation, which evokes vividly fond memories from my childhood, because, while movies like Mulan fails to satisfy as a proper film, Mulan has still held substantial implications as it has ignited curiosity for a new generation of Asian Americans to explore and appreciate their heritage.
Since the film is catered to a younger crowd, Mulan has forged a foundation that allows audiences, specifically parents, to begin conversations about Chinese culture and their own culture as well. Despite the difficulty in introducing the importance of tradition and history for kids, there are major implications if compassion and interest in their identity are taught at an earlier age. In addition to building character and fostering compassion for others, knowing their lineage can positively influence their ability to communicate. In an article published by In the Know, mother Leanne Lee is surprised to find her 5-year-old daughter, Mikayla begging to learn Chinese after watching Mulan together. While Lee’s family spoke Cantonese, the language was not passed down to Mikayla, like many Asian Americans, over time, elements of our mother country, like language, have become casualties of time and the assimilation into an American lifestyle. In a world packed with pressures to conform to American ideals, Mulan values independence, family, and tradition from a Chinese perspective. The setting and context of the film encouraged Lee to amend the struggles she faced with accepting her bicultural identity and sparked an interest for Mikayla to learn Mandarin. For a monumental company like Disney to produce, release, and promote both the original animation and the film, the influence reaches a wide range of individuals that includes small children to adults from various populations. Moreover, the culmination of qualified experts in cinema and production, allows the themes and characters to be well understood and easily implied. In a larger sense, despite the 2020 version’s pitfalls, both Mulan movies proved to distinctively resonate with the public and offer genuine enthusiasm for Chinese heritage.
Personally, Mulan has served to strengthen my connection with my family and ancestors, as well as rekindle my curiosity about my background. Being raised in a predominantly Caucasian suburban town in Texas, I found it difficult to fit in due to the absence of diversity around me. Especially with television or literature, I felt a sense of alienation because I was fundamentally different from everyone and everything around me. Furthermore, in many industries and art forms, Asian lifestyles and customs have been exploited, manipulated, and utilized in efforts to degrade our creations and to invalidate our people. For example, the 2018 Dolce & Gabbana’s runway event, “The Great Show,” overtly mocked the use of chopsticks, Asian cuisine, and an Asian accent in their promotional campaign. Even though Asia is an enormous continent with over 40 countries that have a rich history, extraordinary practices, and diverse beliefs and is home to billions of people, there remains considerable hostility against people of Asian descent. As the result of bullying and teasing about my food, my name, and most anything that is linked to being Asian, I am guilty of rejecting my identity and losing vital opportunities to bond with my family and uncover more about my ancestry. In watching the remake with my family, I had the chance to listen to my parents speak about their lives before moving to America. From my loving parents who dedicated their lives to providing a better life for my siblings and me, to my great grandmother who has survived war and managed to watch her family blossom, I’m proud to know that I come from two resilient and resourceful families and their stories are nothing to be ashamed of. Although it's a lengthy and arduous journey, I’m committed to making a conscious effort to mend the disconnect with my identity. Even though the adaptation failed, Mulan has reminded me of who I am in a time when Asian Americans are seen in a negative light and granted my family a shared experience and reconnection.
In the complexity of life, we are permitted to experience both enjoyment and criticism of any subject. While the 2020 live-action remake of Mulan failed to meet many expectations and disappointed fans & a large majority of the public, it promoted the importance of heritage and anchored the fact that my cultural identity as an Asian American has value and will not falter in the face of intolerance.