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11 October 2016updated 29 Jul 2021 4:14pm

No, there won’t be a white male lead in Disney’s Mulan remake

But the fact that a whitewashed script existed at all reveals a depressing instinct to suppress non-white characters in Hollywood.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

“A white merchant’s business brings him to the heart of a legendary Asian conflict — he unwittingly helps save the day while winning the heart of the Asian female,” begins a guest post by “ConcernedForMulan” on the website Angry Asian Man. “Am I describing the plotline of the Netflix series Marco Polo? No. I’m describing the spec script that Disney bought for its live-action feature film, The Legend of Mulan, which is projected for release in 2018.”

Adding to its roster of live-action remakes of animated classics, Disney is working on a reworking of fan favourite Mulan, which sees the titular heroine disguise her gender in order to both prevent her father from going to war and save her country. But a first draft of the new script, written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, revealed some stark changes to the original story – introducing a white male lead, a 30-something European trader who falls for Mulan and decides to help her cause. In the words of ConcernedForMulan, “That’s right. Our white saviour has come to the aid of Ancient China due to a classic case of Yellow Fever.”

The post, which followed Disney’s confirmations that the actress playing Mulan would definitely be Chinese, quickly went viral, and actor Joel de la Fuente tweeted in support of the article, sharing that he also read the non-commissioned script. “I can back you up on what you’re saying. I confirm everything you said about that draft.” With the hashtag #MakeMulanRight, fans of the film encouraged Disney to backtrack on the plans.

The writer Nicole Chung added, “Of course Mulan needs a white male love interest; a woman always needs a man and two Asian people in love onscreen is anathema in Hollywood. Mulan, the hero, is going to be fetishized in her own story. Great. It’s another great day to be raising Asian daughters who watch things!”

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But New York Magazine editor Kyle Buchanan spoke to a source close the to the project who insisted that the whitewashed script is not the one that Disney plan on using, calling it a “jumping off point”. “Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story,” they said, “and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese.” The latest script is not written by Hynek and Martin: Disney are now using Jurassic World’s Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver instead.

Of course, the fact that the script existed in that form at all reveals a depressing instinct to distrust and suppress non-white characters and storylines in Hollywood, and the criticism still stands as a wider analysis of the industry. But for now, Mulan fans can breathe easy for another day.