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At the beginning of the movie, during the song “Honour to Us All,” Mulan is shown being pampered with makeup and new clothes to meet the matchmaker. A few lyrics in the song that stood out were, “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.” These are the words that were being sung to Mulan as she was getting pampered, which imply that in order to be seen as a good enough candidate for a bride (and therefore bringing honour to her family), she must adopt all of these traits. Mulan herself does not seem too interested in the quality of her appearance, however, she is not given much of a choice during this scene, and ultimately, her gender is being constructed for her through the makeup and clothes that were being put on for her. Later on in the movie when Mulan disguises herself as a man named Ping, she changes her appearance. She cut her hair short, removed her makeup and spoke with a lower voice. Although it was a disguise, she still constructed her gender in a different way from the beginning of the movie.
Mulan’s agency lies in the fact that she snuck off to war to fight instead of her father, therefore finding a different way to try to bring honour to her family. Despite being the only woman, she performs at the top of Li Shang’s training camp, outdoing all the other men. In most Disney movies, the lead female character’s entire purpose revolves around waiting for a prince to sweep her off her feet and save her from whatever situation she may be in. Mulan, however, is the one who escapes the “damsel in distress” narrative and saves herself, as well as her country. She definitely had more agency as Ping, than she did as Mulan.
Disney’s Mulan was released in 1998 sold $303 500 000 in worldwide box office. Numbers for the amount of digital copies sold were not available online, but based on the box office numbers, this movie reached millions of people across the world. The storyline of Mulan differs from past Disney movies, as it shows representation for a population outside of the previous “norm” of a mainly (or all) white cast. Cultural representation in the media is an important thing, especially for younger kids to see while growing up; this may have been a reason why so many people around the world took an interest in watching this movie. Mulan opened doors for more POC representation in the Disney world, therefore raising the international reach.
With that being said, Mulan’s intersections are different from that of previous Disney princesses. Most of the female protagonists in Disney movies are princesses (usually white), who come from wealthy families. Mulan, however, is Chinese, not a princess, nor is she from a wealthy family; and although Ping was just a disguise, it adds some fluidity to her gender throughout the film.
Mulan/Ping showcases a lot of socially constructed gender identities. Although Ping is a just Mulan in a disguise, her character differentiations are just characteristics/style choices that society decided to put a gender on. Hairstyles, clothing and makeup have all been gendered, even though they are just material things. Pink, fitted clothes, makeup and long hair are feminine, while blue, loose clothing and short hair are masculine. Tone of voice is another thing that can be added to that list because if a woman has a lower voice, she is often made fun of for “sounding like a man” and if a man has a higher-toned voice, he may be ridiculed for “sounding like a woman.” In the opening scenes of the move, Mulan was dressed in a fitted gown and drowned in makeup by her family in hopes of her finding a husband. When she was off to war as “Ping,” all she needed to do to disguise herself as a man was to cut her hair and speak with a lower voice. It was easy to see the difference between the two because society has been conditioned to correlate certain traits with a specific gender.
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