How “Mulan” Changed My Life

Our Everly Mag Writing Leaders told us about a single piece of art that changed their life.  Whether it’s a song, book, television episode, YouTube video, or more, our leaders discussed why and how this piece of art made an impact.

This article was written by our writing leader TinaGet to know our Summer 2018 Leaders here!

Cliché as it may seem, Disney movies have almost single-handedly nurtured my creativity and entertained me throughout my childhood. In my personal favorite, a courageous girl puts on a male facade and perpetrates an ambitious scheme with the help of a fiery dragon sidekick to take her father’s place in a treacherous war, and ends up becoming the heroine of her country — Mulan!

Aside from the emotionally charged musical numbers, which none of us can resist singing along to, and the intricate story-line, this movie carries far greater significance than detectable prima facie. In fact, it is has made a lasting imprint on me, and firmly ensconced a brand new belief system into my young, susceptible mind.

disneys mulan cartoon mushu
Image: Disney’s Mulan via MovieWeb

Growing up, Disney movies have always been fascinating, but nevertheless distant and impalpable to me. Though all of the princess were beautiful and brave and carried a voice akin to that of angels, they didn’t look like me or the people I’ve grown up around. Albeit fascinating, their stories never resonated with me. I always felt left out when my Caucasian friends would dress up as Aurora or Cinderella or Snow White, and I couldn’t see the faintest similarity between me and these fair-skinned, western, blonde princesses. It made me feel as if girls of Asian descent like me didn’t deserve to be princesses because we didn’t have the archetypal looks for it and we didn’t grow up in brick castles teeming with ivy in a far far away European land. It wasn’t just Disney movies. In an overwhelming majority of films or TV, or even popular culture, you rarely see any character of Asian descent who isn’t stereotyped or fetishized to death, and god forbid Asian characters be anything other than an overachieving try-hard with a “hilarious” accent.

The media tends to completely neglect Asians, and limit their representation to a minimum. This directly compromises young Asians’ welfare in the Western world, and makes us feel as if we don’t have a place here. Decades and centuries of empirical racism resulted in the Eurocentric beauty standards in the status quo, which are so deeply ingrained in everyone’s minds that it almost seems impossible to combat, and simultaneously leads to blatant intolerance towards minority cultures and ethnicities. However, Disney took a step towards progressiveness when they released the movie Mulan.

It had first come out in 1998, but its popularity rose a few years later. I remember how excited I was when I first saw it: the vicarious triumph and pain I felt along with Mulan, the memory of my own grandma arising when I saw the hilarious Grandmother Fa swat at Mulan with a traditional Chinese fan, and seeing all these cultural references that had felt so incredibly familiar–it had reminded me of home. But furthermore, seeing other people in the theater being just as moved as I was made me feel accepted, like my culture and ethnicity wasn’t shameful, but rather worthy of celebration. When I dressed up as Mulan for Disney day, people complimented my costume and asked me to teach them Chinese, and that was one of the most empowering moments I had ever experienced, because finally, I didn’t feel marginalized and ostracized by mainstream society. Thanks to Mulan, I knew that I could be beautiful, I could be a princess, and I could be accepted.

Representation matters, and I could not be happier that Disney utilized their platform to shine a light on Asian ethnicity and highlight Asia’s rich history and alluring culture. From insecure and rejected, to unapologetic and proud, Mulan has done so much more than make me laugh and my heart throb, it has changed my perspective of myself, and that is often the most powerful perspective of all. It enabled me in ways I can’t even imagine, and encouraged me to take audacious leaps. If an animated movie can help break a prominent barrier in a stubbornly racist society, then why shouldn’t I do the same?

Have you ever felt represented in a movie?  Comment below!  

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