In the context of this course I had to choose a cinematographic work putting forward feminist ideas and concepts. I have decided to pick the movie Mulan. Mulan is a Disney animated movie taking place during the imperial time in China. A group of nomad warriors called the Huns were threatening to invade the Chinese land and were a menace to the people. Because of that, the Emperor asked that one man of each family joined the army to protect the Empire. The person who will be the most helpful to protect the people is a teenage girl called Mulan. This movie is very empowering and shows girls from a very young age that gender does not define their abilities to do whatever they want, as long as they stay true to themselves.
The first concept brought upon in the movie is the role women have in the Chinese culture. At the time, young woman were count on to uphold the family honor, if they did not get married, they brought great shame to their family. In one of the first scenes of the movies, Mulan, the main character, had reached the age where, according to tradition, she had to meet a “match maker”, a woman who would determine if she had the abilities to become a bride. As in all Disney movies, a song accompanied the scene, giving a very clear idea of what a girl was destined to become in the imperial china. One verse said that men wanted obediant girls who can have children and have a tiny waists while another verse said that men honored the emperor by bearing arms and girls honored him by bearing sons. during her encounter with the match maker, she was told that she was too skinny and that it was not good for bearing children. Mulan was very stressed and clumsy during her interview because she had to act in a way that was not herself. Her attitude did not please the match maker, who told her she would never bring honour to her family, which saddened Mulan because she understood that, by being herself, her family would lose other people’s respect.
Another concept challenged in the movie is the ability of women to be treated as men’s equal. After having ruined her chances of finding a respectable husband, Mulan found out that her father had to join the army during a visit from the Emperor’s counselor. She immediately intervened, asking that her father would not be forced to join the army because he had already served his country and was injured. The messenger was very shocked that she dared address him without permission to speak. The fact that she “stood up” for her father was very humiliating for him. She then decided, in the middle of the night, to cut her hair (long hair being a symbol of beauty), tie it like a man, bear her fathers armor, and take his place in the army. Arriving at the training camp she had to train alongside the other soldiers but she was slower than them. The Captain Shang therefore sent her home but she did not let herself be brought down by that and worked harder and smarter to prove she was as strong as men. Proving herself, she was allowed to stay and rapidly became one of the best soldiers, and even saved the captain’s life from an invaders attack that she helped win. At that moment she had gained the respect of Shang respect. Unfortunately, by saving him, she had hurt herself and a doctor had to examine her body, discovering she was a girl (she disguised herself as a soldier named Ping). The news was soon discovered by all her companions and the Captain was told by the counselor that she was guilty of high treason and ultimate dishonor meaning she had to be executed. Luckily for her, Shang did not kill her but he exiled her, leaving her alone in the mountains. It is interesting to see how Mulan was a very respected soldier before people knew she was a woman! Her gender could have costed her her life!
Left alone in the snowy mountain, Mulan realises she did not take her father’s place only to protect him. She also wanted to prove to herself that she was capable of doing things right, that she was worthwile. It had certainly been hard for her to learn that she was not good enough to become a bride and bring honor to her family. At that same moment, she sees from afar the Hun invaders enter the city. She immediately decides to rush to the city and warn the soldiers, who were entering the city as “saviours of China”, that they had failed to supress the invaders and that the country was still in danger. At first, the captain Shang, who once had respected and trusted her (as Ping), was reluctant to believe her. Seeing the Huns attack the city after Mulan had warned him brought him bak to his senses and he decided to trust her. So, after convincing Shang and her three soldier friends to help her stop the invaders, she saved the Empire! The Emperor and all China bowed down to her, the hero! The Emperor offered her a medallion, the sword of the leader of the Huns that she had managed to defeat and a place as counselor (firing the man who had treated her of treator and had said that she was not a hero, she was a woman and she would never be worth anything). Following her heart, she refused the offer to become counselor and decided to go back home to her father, who, by then had realised that the greatest honor he could ever have was to be Mulan’s father, a smart girl who spoke her mind and followed her heart.
Mulan was the last of the 90’s Disney princess movies, even thought she is not really a princess. She repeatedly challenged the role of women in the Chinese Society and proved that being a woman is not synonym of weakness. She proved that her gender did not define her abilities in both physical and psychological areas by demonstrating that military tactic, physical endurance, strenght and loyalty are not things proper to men, but to every individual who has the courage to be themselves and work hard to excel in their talents. Not only does this movie present women and men as equal, it points out that a woman does not have to meet society’s norms to be an ideal wife. In the words of the Emperor, “the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all”.