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While many people pride Mulan as being a movie in which gender stereotypes are broken, all this focus ends up doing is distracting people from many of the other stereotypes within the movie. In Mulan the character, designers, and writers make many of the characters fit different stereotypes’ within the movie. I will talk about the movie Mulan and compare characters within the movie to common stereotypes talked about within the text “Teaching (Popular) Visual Culture: Deconstructing Disney in the Elementary Art Classroom”, written by Kevin Tavin and David Anderson. This article discusses many different types of stereotypes, and uses examples from many different Disney films. Along with the common stereotypes, there are some other more subtle ones that are often not thought of when watching a Disney movie.
Racial stereotypes are often the first noticed in movies mainly due to the fact that they are the most prominent and controversial in today’s society. They are also the most difficult for films to put in without immediately being criticized as a racist movie, however this never stopped Disney from putting their prejudices in the movies, “Disney’s discourse around race and ethnicity are part of a cluster of unconscious messages about power and social memories about history” (Tavin. P. 24). Tavin is saying that racial stereotypes are often shown to be from the normal way people acted in their culture’s past. In the beginning of the movie Mulan is shown getting prepped and dressed for the matchmaker to pick her and find a husband. In the song sung during this scene, one of the major line has the singer saying “Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient. Who work fast-paced. With good breeding and a tiny waist, you’ll bring honor to us all” (Mulan). This clearly shows a stereotype of not only some of the things considered attractive at this time in China but also how important bringing honor to your family was at this time. Tavin also speaks about the stereotyping of the protagonists versus the antagonists of a movie:
Repeatedly non-white human characters appear as stereotypical representations of ‘the other,’ who are often inferior, grotesque, violent, or unscrupulous […] in Aladdin, the hero is light skinned with Anglo features and speaks standard American English, while other ‘Arabs’ […] have dark skin with exaggerated facial features and speak with thick accents. All of this falls in line with […] white Western culture represent[ing] orderliness, rationality, and self-control [and Non-Western and Non-Whiteness] indicates chaos, irrationality, violence, and the breakdown of self-regulation. (Tavin, P. 24)
There is an extremely similar parallel in the movie Mulan in which all the main characters speak perfect english while the enemies, in this case the Huns, are darker skinned very barbaric, almost animal like with sharp yellowed teeth, claw like fingernails, and speak in a thick accent thus identifying them as the enemy. While many would say this is simply Disney going for accuracy in that the Huns would not even be speaking English then this does not explain why the protagonists, who are all Chinese, speak with no accent whatsoever. In this movie characters aren’t even always stereotyped based by the look of their character. “Animals and non-human representations in Disney films are not immune to this racial stereotyping. The characters often use language in the form of racially coded accents and inflections” (Tavin, P. 24). The last major racial stereotype comes from a very prominent character which is a dragon named Mushu and voiced by Eddie Murphy. The most interesting thing about this however is not just his voice, but the lines given by the writers even sound like a stereotypical black. One example of this is when Mushu was trying to defend himself and convince people he was up for the task at hand. “Oh, y’all don’t think I can do it? […] Don’t make me have to singe nobody to prove no point” (Mulan). It is easy to see that this was not just the way somebody decided to write the line. The phrasing of this line is very stereotypical sounding and the writers clearly made it this way for a purpose not just as a coincidence, as this line did not aid the story whatsoever. However racial stereotypes are not the only ones presented in this movie.
Another common type of stereotype presented in Mulan is based around the ages of the characters at hand. This is most prominently old age however this is not always the case. To start very simply the first age related stereotype we see is a very simple one. They portray Mulan’s father as a very old man and the way he looks and acts correctly portrays this. He is an old and thin man with white hair and walks with a limp and a cane. However despite his handicaps he is shown to be extremely wise and respected by the members of his family to the point where it is never acceptable to question his decisions. However this article goes into much more specific details when it comes to certain stereotypes, one of which is the old woman stereotype:
As opposed to young or middle-aged women, older women in disney films are frequently represented as non-sexualized magical beings such as wise grandmothers and fairy godmothers. These characters often comfort the traumatized love-stricken young heroines and sacrifice themselves to ensure hetero-sexual normalization. (Tavin, P. 24)
Mulan’s grandmothers is the perfect example of this stereotype. She is a tiny old woman with white hair who tries to help her granddaughter in any way she can during the matchmaking ceremony, including walking through busy traffic with her eyes closed to ensure that the cricket she picked out for her is actually lucky. In this article they also talk about the middle aged woman as having a very unique stereotype in Disney movies. “Middle-aged women in Disney animated films are often portrayed as hyper-authoritarian adversaries in the form of evil step-mothers, depraved ogres, wicked queens, and sinful witches” (Tavin, P. 24). While Mulan is being “prepared” for finding a husband we run into the middle aged woman who is supposed to help her look beautiful for the matchmaking ceremony. While in this case the woman is not necessarily a bad character she is shown as incredibly bossy, ugly, and not to mention strict when it comes to how Mulan is allowed to dress and look. She quickly becomes a character you are not supposed to like or relate to. While it is not necessarily the acts that she is performing that make her fit this stereotype, since they are for the betterment of Mulan in the towns eyes, it is the way she goes about it and her attitude during it that make her fit the part.
Mulan uses many stereotypes that are common throughout movies and literature, however are pointed out much less often due to the fact that the major plot device is the character breaking the social norms of their society. The text “Teaching (Popular) Visual Culture: Deconstructing Disney in the Elementary Art Classroom” shows many stereotypes that many people simply overlook and don’t think about within the movies they see day to day. While some stereotypes, such as the enemies having darker skin and accents, are definitely negative, and others, such as an old man being wise and walking with a cane, are simply common observation they are all classified as generalizations that we commonly call stereotypes.
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