The Disney Film “Mulan” Analysis
Most movies were created for entertainment and profit purpose, but there are many more that were created specially to send a message to the audience, which could affect or benefit our society. These messages are sent by art, music, cinematography and storytelling. In some of these films gender is socially constructed, women are underrepresented, men are usually overrepresented and in most cases there is offensive stereotypes that are not taking our society anywhere.
In most of these films women are shown as “sexual symbols” and “sexual objects.” In addition, many of these films featured less women and more men, and the small percentage of women are usually sexualized. For example; action movies tend to promote aggression towards women and most of the same use women as sexual objects, show women being dominated by men and portray women according to cultural perspectives. On the contrary, some animation movies present women as beautiful and intelligent princesses.
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Despite, what people may think about the movie Mulan, it is such a movie that can make women feel powerful and capable of doing anything. This is why Mulan is one of my favorite animation movies, because it breaks stereotypes and typical women cultural perspectives. Mulan brought many critics among different cultures, but specially Chinese culture because the movie confused Chinese traditions with Japan traditions which are not the same. It also presents non traditional families, people of color in top roles and it breaks the usual norms of Disney princess storytelling, which it is something important for our new generation. Nowadays, it is important to provide our new generation with the courage and motivation to success in life and overcome stereotypes that oppress women.
Mulan has been one of the most exceptional movie for its analysis of gender and sexuality. This critical analysis is persuasive and successful at bringing awareness to its readers because of the real life examples; stereotypes and objectification among women, sexuallity and gender favoritism and finally the strength in femininity, over physical power.
The film Mulan introduces a totally different women perspective and it breaks stereotypes and objectification among women. The typical Disney princesses are often dressed with big dresses, use makeup to look better or do chores like Cinderella who waits for a price to love and and rescue her. The typical “Cinderella Princess” inspire little girls to dress pretty, to wear makeup, so they can be rescue and love by a prince, which relates to Bartky when he states that “Women are controlled by society more because they have to regulate their appearances with makeup, certain clothes, behaviors” (Bartky, 1997:26). But Mulan breaks these stereotypes and provides a different idea of a powerful princess. Mulan demonstrates that women can be and do more than just look pretty and wait for a “prince” to come and rescue them. Furthermore, most of the time women are many times use as objects not as people.
In the book, The Second Wave states: “All women live in objectification the way fish live in water.” (Mackinnon, 1997:171). In other words, women are seen as objects and for the same reason they are not allow to talk or take decisions without man’s permission. Women have no autonomy and sense of agency when it comes to their body. Consequently, Mulan takes a tough attitude which leads her to achieve all sense of agency and complexity. The way Mulan loses the feeling of control over actions and their consequences is by becoming a tough and strong woman. It is important to remark that Mulan had to dress like a man to be able to feel free and lose the feeling of control over certain actions in order to achieve agency during one part of the film.
Mulan basically has to demonstrate herself and others that she can be as strong as a traditional man. All this becomes an important element for her to achieve agency. The way women can achieve agency is by obligating themselves to behave and effectuate the traditional male characteristics. For example, Mulan has to be physical strong and she has to prove how strong she is by fighting against men. In addition, Mulan has to get rid of her dresses, makeup and everything that could make her look “weak” (female). Looking closer to to the film it actually reveals that this Disney “romance story” emphasizes strength in femininity, not only by physical power, but becoming a strong female to defeat the enemy and save China.
In the film, these type of actions were punished because it means breaking Chinese traditions and cultural perspectives. On the other hand, our society is controlled by stereotypes that oppress women to always dress nice, wear makeup and eat less to look always as how a “female” should look. Bartky talks about deity discipline, and points out how “women to achieve the “ideal” body according to society’s standards, they must monitor their appetite (Bartky, 1997:22). In other words, women themselves are being control by what may people think of their appearance and according to Bartky many of them have accepted that “having a “feminine” body is critical for their sense of self.” (Bartky, 1997:24).
Moreover, the first song of the film “Honor to Us All” also points out how important is for a man to find a woman with a small waist. The song lyrics point out how important is for males to find a female with a tiny waist, and how honorable is for Mulan’s family to find a good man for her. Furthermore, when two women bathe and clothe Mulan, they sing to her the same song “Honor to Us all” the song says that after she is dressed pretty and have makeup on “boys will gladly go to war for her.” This is part of the stereotypes we often see portray in movies, women that have to do everything possible to be liked by men.
In one part of the film Mulan is force to fake a smile so she can be liked by men, this reminded me to Bartky reading when he says that women are often encourage to smile more than men. Smiling is part of women’s work, they have to do it everywhere at every time, he calls it “Economy of Smile.” (Bartky, 1997:23). Going back to the beginning of the beginning, we can see how it concentrates more in how women should act and look, but when Mulan rebels against these expectations and take her father’s place and leave to join the army. She basically breaks stereotypes and demonstrates that women are also capable of becoming strong and intelligent. In the same way, Mulan uses her intelligence to make a plan to defeat Shan-Yu. In this scene Mulan establishes that women do not need to be or look like a man to defeat the enemy and save the world.
On the other hand, with the song “Reflection” Mulan opens doubts about her sexuality and gender. She was not comfortable with everything she had to do as a female. The song lyrics says to look at her and how she will never pass for a perfect bride or perfect daughter, and how it can be that she is not meant to play that part. Moreover, she says If she was truly to be herself, she would break her family’s heart. This song introduces a new twist to the story, Mulan is acting like someone she does not want to be.
In one part of the film, when they start recluding people to join the army and come to Mulan’s father. He affirms to be ready to serve the Emperor, but Mulan knows her father’s health is deteriorating and tells her father that he cannot go as he has served and fought already. This part really caught my attention because after she speaks out, the man that brings the proclamation from the Imperial City told Mulan’s father that he is not doing a good job with her daughter because he has not teached her to hold her tongue in a man’s presents. This type of scenes are often seen in our society due to culture perspectives, women do not have the same rights as men and men have all power.
According to Mackinnon “A feminist theory of sexuality based on these data locates sexuality within a theory of gender inequality, meaning the social hierarchy of men over women.” (Mackinnon, 1997:159). When we talk about sexuality and gender inequality, there is still a Taboo in many cultures and a lot of differences between genders. However, this film is totally different from other Disney stories, because most Disney romances are based on a romance between a woman who has a troubled life and wants a man “prince” to rescue her from what she is going through.
In these Disney stories women fell in love with men and vise versa, but Mulan presents a different romance perspective, when she takes her father place in the army and dresses like a man, Li Shang starts to feel attraction for Mulan. This according to Cohen is something “abnormal” because it does not fit in our society and are marginalized. Cohen states “Institutions see heterosexuality and heterosexual relationships in society as natural” (Cohen, 1997:440).
The film suggest a homosexual romance, because when Li Shang meets Mulan, he assumes that her identity is Ping (male0 and he feels attracted to Ping. In this part of the film, we can see how every aspect of the Disney princes pantheon is broken. A “prince” filling attracted and falling in love with another man. While Li Shang is training the soldiers, he expresses pleasure at Ping’s progress through body language. This does not mean that the film is intentionally showing a homosexual romance as Li Shang never makes any overt romantic move towards Ping other than body language expressions of satisfaction.
For example, when Ping defeats him in hand-to-hand combat, Li Shang smiles showing happiness. Another part of the film that highlights sexuality is when they start singing “A Girl Worth Fighting For” this song basically talks about what a traditional and acceptable woman should look or act, but Li Shang does not contributes to the song what means that he does not care about traditional ideas of sexuality and gender norms. At this point we have a lot to say or think about Li-Shang sexuality preferences. Even though, Shang did not know Ping’s real gender, he fell attracted to her. And after Li Shang discovers Mulan’s real identity, he decides to forgive her life and let her go alive.
Li Shang does show disagreement when he realizes that Ping has broken his trust, but he does not seem irritated about Ping’s real identity. It is important to mention that Li Shang was feeling attracted to Ping and when he finally discovers that Ping is a female, he feels more comfortable and he appears to be attracted to the person regardless of gender. This part of the film, opened my eyes to the fact of gay relationships because some people see gay relationships as weird and unacceptable, and it is important to mention that Li Shang started to feel attracted to the person not exactly to Ping’s physical appearance, but to her personality. This means that the attraction that a man feels towards another man or when a woman feels attracted to another woman maybe due to the personality of the other person, not necessary to their physical appearance.
In deed, there are many people that try to avoid these type of feelings towards people of their own sex because it goes against their religion or culture norm, and they cannot explain how this attraction to people of one’s own sex started, but they feel guilty and hide. On the other hand, it does not necessary mean that Li Shang was homosexual when he fell some sort of attraction to Ping, it could also be that Li Shang did feel some sort of feeling for Ping as friend but after he witnesses the scene where Mulan saves the Emperor and he knows her as a woman, he starts to affirm his feelings towards Ping/Mulan.
In the end, Mulan is embracing her sexuality by feeling attraction towards Li Shang. She knew since the beginning Shang’s gender and knew that it was okay for her to feel the way she was feeling, and she tries to support Li Shang in every moment. For example, after they arrive to the village where Tung Shao has passed and killed Li Shang’s father and all the people in the village. Mulan as Ping feels solidarity towards Li Shang as he has lost his father and when she sees Li Shang’s pain, she seems compassionate because of what he is going through and because at this point she feels some type of attraction towards Li Shang.
Finally, the film Mulan demonstrates that the strength in femininity is better than the physical power. Disney leads this storytelling to an aspect of strength in femininity when male actors also embrace feminine characteristics in order to be able to defeat the enemy. In one part of the film, when all Mulan’s peer have to put makeup on, wear dresses and act like women to distract the guards while Li- Shang rescue the Emperor. Mulan here becomes a strong woman who leads by virtue of her physical competency and demonstrates agency in every phase.
Mulan takes strength in femininity and this action causes in some way that her peers break out their believes and gender norms. During these scenes Mulan also animates Li- Shang to examine his feelings the same feeling we witnessed during the whole film when Mulan was Ping. Moreover, the Disney film ends up by embracing Li-Shang and Mulan’s romane. Even though, this romance started when Li-Shang fell in love with Ping long before he knew she was Mulan.
The Disney film Mulan starts by highlighting how culture perspectives oppressed women and their sexuality and then it presents a different twist that brings awareness to the audience because it breaks stereotypes and objectification among women, embraces sexuallity and gender and finally, promotes the strength in femininity, over physical power. There is nothing wrong with women wanted to be attractive or men wanted to have attractive females, but women deserve respect, despite their culture, beliefs, physical appearance and skin color.
If a man just wants a woman for her physical appearance or if men only see women as an objects that have to stay home quite then there is a problem because women should always be empowered by men. Stereotypes and objectification among women, sexuallity and gender favoritism will always be an issue in our society until the moment women reunite and fight against the culture perspectives. We as women have to embrace each other and have a voice.