FF138 - Mulan

Intro by John Roderick

Representation matters! When Mulan appeared on the screen in 1998 she was only the third princess of color and the first from Asia to enter the Disney canon. She is an empowered protagonist, a fighter, an iconoclast, kind of a nerd, and a true hero, but full wokeness was not yet a twinkle in the Disney Corporation's eye in 1998 and the film suffers from some very problematic attitudes toward other cultures that were inexcusable, even considering the standards of their day. I am talking, of course, about the virulent anti-Hun racism that pervades the film.

The Chinese are proud to have built a giant wall to exclude the Huns from opportunity and prosperity - sound familiar? - and they continue to market it and profit from it at the expense of the global reputation of the Hunish people. Disney animators reinforced this sinocentric prejudice by portraying the Huns as simultaneously subhuman and otherworldly, using the most offensive stereotypes.

Of course, the Huns did have yellow glowing eyes, but ancient accounts seem to confirm that their eyes glowed not with malice, but with wit and charm. Did they stand eight feet tall? No! The tallest Hun on record was only 7’9” (236 cm) in his tallest murder boots. The fact is that because the Huns left no written record of their culture, other than curses scrawled in the entrails of the vanquished, we are forced to rely on biased descriptions of them in Chinese and European manuscripts that appealed to the xenophobic and fundamentalist popular sentiments of their time.

Worse even is the fact that Disney animators - predominantly Asians - were working from sketches produced largely by artists of European descent who almost certainly had an ethnographic axe to grind to avenge their ancestors whose spinning skulls were used to hone the blades of Hunish axes. Of course the Huns were portrayed as murderous and merciless in those exaggerated and possibly falsified accounts, just because the Huns murderously and mercilessly decimated the Ostrogoths, the Visigoths, the Eastern Roman Empire, and much of Gaul and Italy itself, extracting great ransoms and leaving salted Earth in their wake.

Again: The histories are written by the victors, and even though the Huns were technically the victors in these cases, the histories were written by the history victors, which is to say, the people who wrote things down to make it seem like they won even when they lost, like Norman Mailer.

In fact, many references to the other side of Hunish culture permeate our language, passed down through the oral traditions of preliterate people like the Swiss. The term honeybunch, for instance, entered high German as a word for the lighter side of total war when a fun bunch of Huns would overrun a town and squeeze everyone until their eyes popped out. Or: Honeysuckle, a colorful Galician way of describing a lust for sucking the marrow out of life and out of the broken femurs of your enemies.

Anyway: Yes, Mulan was a groundbreaking film and is celebrated even unto this day. It has been remade just recently as a live action thing, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda as the hilarious talking donkey and Sandra Oh as Vice Principal Gupta. It promises to be worth all $200 million they spent on it, but let's hope that Disney spent a little bit of that cash to offer the Hunish perspective, or better yet: Add a glowing-eyed Hun princess to match Mulan’s swordplay and dragon-fetishism with some skull-binding corpse-mutilating literal horseplay. ”You don't meet a girl like that every dynasty!” On today's Friendly Fire: Mulan.

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