The 1998 Disney movie “Mulan” was the very first Disney movie with an Asian background. It is based on traditional Chinese story about courageous young woman who went to war in place of her ill father by disguising herself into a male. Throughout the film, there is a definite focus on society in China during the North and South Dynasty period. Mulan, the main character, has a hard time adjusting to the army full of men and disguising herself, however in due course she makes some good friends and plays a fundamental role in effectively defeating the enemy. Also, later on in the film she falls in love with Shang, who is an army general and they decide to marry.
Just to give us a rough background on Orientalism, the Orientals created a gulf and divided the world into two portions by using the concept of ‘theirs and ‘ours’. This distinction of being vastly different is the most discrete characteristic of the Orientalist mind-frame. This can also be alluded to as an imaginary geographical line. This permeation of our contemporary culture is described by Edward Said as “Putting on a pair of glasses that distort your vision…” As a result of these ‘glasses’ our perceptions involves seeing the East as different and far removed from the world of the West and Western culture. Orientalism has an unavoidable assembly to Colonialism. Post-colonial nations are almost always viewed as different or as the ‘other’ so consequently whatever the innovative influences developing merely from their determination is exposed to some type of discrimination and abandonment.In our case we can say that Disney tried to view the story from the view of Eastern people to the best of their ability, but during the discourse they couldn’t overcome the Orientalist views lying under their unconsciousness.
We can locate factors of Orientalism in the values through which characters pursuit in the movie. Sacrificing oneself for family in order to maintain the family’s honor is emphasized. Mulan, even disguises herself as a man in order to do this. Furthermore, there is an ongoing portrayal of the traditional Chinese belief of household gods. This is very distorted throughout the film as the household gods are illustrated as prejudiced toward females and narrow-minded, and this can be considered as a major disrespect for Chinese traditional beliefs. The characters throughout the animation all have very comparable features such a yellow-toned skin complexion, small eyes, thin lips, despite the fact that people of Asian background all have vastly different physical traits. There also many set Asian prototypes throughout such as the characters eating with chopsticks and drinking hot tea after each meal. A main inconsistency in the film is the portrayal of Mulan herself. Many of the clothes she wears, and her make-up alike, resemble that of traditional Japan’s rather than China’s. Many of her outfits are similar to the traditional Japanese ‘Kimono’, and her hairstyle is also very Japanese. Additionally, the flowers that are used throughout the movie in order to emphasise the theme are Cherry Blossoms, which is the national flower of Japan. The Great Wall of China appears in the movie several times even though it did not exist in the time period which the story of Mulan takes place…(boo boom chhhh). Mulan also uses dynamite as her main tool to defeat enemies during her battles, but dynamite was not invented at that time. In my opinion this is one kind of Orientalism, since the film makers merged two completely different Asian cultures into one, it shows that they simply didn’t care if they merged. Ignorant or what?
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Said, Edward 1976, Orientalism, Random House Inc., United States of America
Turner, Bryan S. 1994, Orientalism, Post-modernism & Globalisation, Routledge, 11 New Fetter Lane London