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Mulan will be played by a Chinese actor – let’s hope this sets a precedent

30 Nov 2017

Supposedly, every Chinese-born millennial is jumping for joy today.

It’s just been announced that Liu Yifei will be playing the much-loved Disney character, Mulan, for the live action remake in 2019. I certainly was for the first minute after finding out, until it dawned on me that I had fallen victim to Hollywood’s brainwashing; seeing white actors occupying roles originally created for minority actors as the norm.

The overwhelming number of historical, and recent examples of actors in yellowface, along with the general whitewashing within cinema, is more than enough for us to expect another round of disappointment. From the most famous example of yellowface in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to the more modern atrocities, such as Cloud Atlas or Ghost In The Shell, Hollywood repeatedly exposes itself a treasure trove of ignorance surrounding race.

Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (Paramount Pictures)

Let’s also not forget the time that Memoirs of a Geisha, a film about an iconic part of Japan’s history, was cast with Chinese actors in lead roles. Hollywood has failed time and time again, so it’s no wonder that on this particular occasion we find ourselves pleasantly surprised.


“More white women have won Oscars for roles in yellowface than any actual women of East Asian descent have ever won”


Hollywood seems to have never seriously considered actors from East Asian descent for leading roles. To put this into perspective, more white women have won Oscars for roles in yellowface than any actual women of East Asian descent have ever won. We should also consider stereotypes of Asian men not being sexy or masculine enough to play a lead role, or the submissive Asian woman who could not possibly have passed as a strong heroine for a Western audience – yes, I am looking at you, Ghost In The Shell. 

The way the Western world chooses to view us will always be reflected on-screen, and our views on representation in cinema will continue to be warped until this oversight in casting ends. With The Lion King and Mulan both set to finally represent people of colour within live-action Disney more strongly, we can only hope this continues in films with plotlines set in the West too.