In anticipation for the upcoming live adaptation of Mulan, it is not only fun but it is imperative to be reminded why the character and movie in general resonated heavily with parents and female children.
Before people fully understood Feminism (many still don’t), strong female characters were rare on the television screen – even rarer when it came to animation.
Thankfully, there is currently a lot of conversation surrounding feminism and equality today. However, it is important to give recognition where it is due and be reminded of the Disney character that taught girls that they could be their own heroes.
With predecessors like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White – it can be understood why Mulan was a breath of necessary fresh air.
Mulan tells the story of a young woman who impersonates a man to get drafted into the Chinese military in her ailing father’s stead. Granted, that is over simplifying the plot. However, it is all you need to know before forging ahead with the article.
When Disney originally came up with the idea for Mulan, she was supposed to be an oppressed young Chinese woman who eventually elopes with a British Prince to Europe. However, Tony Bancroft (one of the directors of the movie) thought about his daughters and wanted to give them an icon that was strong, independent and didn’t need to be saved by a man. This decision went on to introduce many little girls around the world to their first feminist icon.
As the live action premiere date approaches, we can only hope that the movie keeps in line with the ideology the original created. In the animation, Mulan is portrayed as stubborn, intelligent, brave, loyal and very importantly, she is the hero of her own story – she also saves China. While Mulan debuted in 1998, it is surprising to hear that not many movies after have followed suit. A character as well written and dynamic as hers should have served as the foundation for many female characters that came afterward.
What made Mulan resonate with viewers, especially parents, was the fact that romance was never her motive. She did not make her choices trying to find a prince, impress a prince or marry a prince. Instead, she went to war to save her father’s life and she returned after saving the entire kingdom.
Mulan makes great efforts in its plot, dialogue and even musical numbers to anatomize gender constructs. We see Mulan, a woman, not only infiltrate an entirely male dominated section of society but we also witness her succeed at it. This, in its own way, told young movie goers at the time that they were capable of excelling in any field they wanted whether society permitted it or not.
At the very beginning of the movie, these gender constructs were wholly embraced, by the middle they were questioned and by the end, they were fractured.
This is why Mulan was the icon young women needed to see, even today. Despite the fact the movie came out almost a decade ago, many of these limitations are still in place. We learn in Mulan that every change comes from questioning the system in place. Sometimes, we need to complete defy it if we want to see any form of change.
Mulan also strays away from sexual objectification of its lead which was particularly notable as most Disney female characters were objectified in one way or the other. This was achieved without stripping the titular character of her femininity, which will constantly serve as a reminder to its female viewers that you don’t have to become any less feminine in order to achieve whatever you want.
In the beginning of the movie, we see the titular character struggle with society’s expectation of her and the fact she could not deliver. It is safe to say that many women today have felt this way, a constant struggle with who they want to be and who they think they should be. The fact that Disney addresses this issue in this movie can be empowering because it is necessary to remind women who are incapable of being what society requires of them that they are not broken, only different. And there’s nothing wrong with being different.
Another thing to note is that Mulan does not go up against a female villain – it is not a case of a woman combating another woman as with the case of Ariel and Ursula, Snow White and The Evil Queen, Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, Cinderella and her evil step mother and step sisters. From Mulan’s grandmother to her mother, Mulan is surrounded by supportive female characters who seek to help build her up instead of tearing her down. For too long, the fiction that women never want to see other women succeed has become well circulated, both in media and in real life; however, Mulan reminds us, that is not always the case.
A line in the song, I’ll Make A Man Out Of You goes “Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?” This is uttered when the men are out of shape and underperforming, the beautiful irony comes when Mulan – a daughter – becomes the best performing soldier in the entire group and eventually gets the recognition for it, which she deserves. A reminder that anything can be achieved regardless of sex.
At the end of the day, Mulan was able to find balance and her place in the world. She was even able to save China a second time in the sequel. Mulan reminds us that going against the grain is not always a bad thing. Breaking the norm should not be frowned upon but encouraged. More characters like Mulan need to be created in order to allow people especially little children to see that it is okay to question the parts of society which they don’t understand. While not perfect and most of us may never wield a sword, Mulan is certainly an ideal feminist character to aspire to.
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