On Mulan and Cross-Ethnic Casting
First, a few general things:
- I don’t know if cross-ethnic is the correct term for casting a person of one ethnicity as another— please correct me if I’m wrong.
- While my ethnicity is Han Chinese, my thoughts and opinions are by no means representative of all Chinese. I do not mean to talk over or silence differing opinions from other Chinese people, and I apologise in advance if I come off that way.
- I have used “China/Chinese” rather than going into the specific countries that the land (that we now know as an united China) was broken into at the time.
- I am quite obviously in the “Cast Someone Chinese for Mulan” camp.
- This post was made to allow myself to more coherently gather my own thoughts and rebuttals to arguments I’ve seen around.
Differing Views Within Chinese Community
From what I’ve read, there seems to be three common views, all equally valid:
- Chinese characters should always be played by Chinese actors/actresses. No exceptions.
- It doesn’t matter— I’m just happy to see more Asian representation and/or Asian actors/actresses shouldn’t be boxed into the sorts of roles like that.
- It depends on context, and/or the sort of story being told.
While I do not wish to see Asian actors/actresses being boxed into roles of characters matching their ethnicity, I do not think that we’re at the point where we can do that 100% of the time without it being harmful. As one of the thisisnotchina mods pointed out, “Asians are not deracialised the way white European Americans are. An Englishman can be cast for a major role in Les Miserables without people forgetting about the Frenchness of the story, the history, Victor Hugo, etc. (nor the Englishness of the actor!) To cross-culturally cast someone for a distinctly Chinese story (compared with Fresh Off the Boat which I believe resonates and is meant to resonate with many Asian Americans, not just Taiwanese Americans) really plays into the conflation of Asian ethnicities and cultures that already exists in North America.”
For that reason, I’m part of the third group. There is a huge difference between FOTB and Mulan in terms of the story being told and the themes in it, so I don’t think they should be compared. I see FOTB as a portrayal of the Asian American experience, told through an Asian American family who just happened to be Taiwanese, which is why I don’t really mind Randall Park playing the part of a Taiwanese immigrant.
Why (at Least) the Main Cast Should be Chinese
Building on what I said before on context and the sort of story Mulan is telling, it would be historically correct and culturally sensitive to cast Chinese people as Chinese characters.
- Mulan is an important and distinct part of Chinese folklore that originated over a thousand years ago. To which Chinese ethnic group she belonged is unclear (to my knowledge), but she was Chinese.
- Some Chinese people don’t want to be represented what will probably be a hugely successful movie by someone who isn’t Chinese.
- At current time, as already mentioned above, casting a non-Chinese into a distinctly Chinese role, may be harmful. I know that Hollywood thinks that it’s okay to cast cross-ethnically, but it could just add to the “all Asians are interchangeable/the same” stereotype. Until that stereotype dies, I don’t think it’s a good idea to cast cross-ethnically.
- International relations and historical conflict. To use Japan as an example, I (and some other Chinese people I’ve talked to) would be very uncomfortable if a Japanese person was cast as a Chinese character simply because Japan tried to invade China not that long ago in the past and still deny what they’ve done to this day. It’s kinda just insensitive to cast a non-Chinese Asian in a distinctly Chinese story where the main characters are defending China.
On White-Washing and Half-Asian/Half-White Casting
Whitewashing is obviously wrong, I think we all know that. Regarding casting half-Chinese actors/actresses, I am against it. Three main points:
- A part-Chinese person can identify as Chinese, and in addition, I think that part-Chinese people should be welcome to weigh in on issues within the Chinese community if they identify as Chinese.
- However, I do not believe a part-Chinese actress will be cast as Mulan (or any other Chinese character) with “well, they identify as Chinese so it’s okay” in mind. I believe that if a part-Chinese person is cast, it will be because they are part-White and/or (conditionally) white-passing. It’s an easy way out for people who don’t want to cast PoC because they think Western (white) audiences won’t want to see films with PoC leads, but want to avoid accusations of racism if they whitewash.
- It’s not historically accurate. Mulan wasn’t half-Chinese and half-white, and I doubt anyone was in that time/place. Casting someone half-Chinese would be needlessly inaccurate.
“Where is the outrage for this white ethnic group being cast as this white ethnic group?”
I don’t know. Why are you asking me? Why are you asking PoC bloggers this, as if they’re hypocritical or hold a double standard for not bringing this up or it’s somehow their fault?
I (and many other PoC bloggers, I imagine) try my best to stay in our lane, to voice our opinions only when it is our place to do so. Just as it is not my place to tell a Japanese person to be offended (or not to be offended) at the casting for Memoirs of a Geisha, it is also not my place to tell a French person that they’re wrong when they say that they’re okay with Hugh Jackman being in Les Mis, or tell a Russian person that they should be offended that ScarJo has been casted as the Black Widow.
If (white) people feel the same concern over cross-ethnic casting, then they should be raising concerns, they should be the ones making posts and calling people out. If this is really such a big deal, then make yourselves heard. If it’s not, that’s okay but don’t you dare use it as an way to try shut down people who do care.
Regarding Opinions from Non-Chinese
Whatever your opinion is, do not speak over Chinese people. If you agree with something that a Chinese person has said, cool, go reblog it. If you disagree with something that a Chinese person is said, keep your mouth shut and scroll down.
A non-Chinese person has no right to dictate to a Chinese person what they should or should not settle for or accept. They have no right to tell a Chinese person “it’ll be good enough if everyone’s Asian” or “you shouldn’t settle for less, everyone should be Chinese.”