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Disney's Approach To Cultural Difference Essay

1439 words - 6 pages

Disney’s approach to cultural difference is deeply rooted in its need to appeal to an American audience. The film Mulan (1998), while celebrated for its vast improvement of stereotypical depictions of other cultures, is not different in its paternalistic approach to Chinese culture. Mulan contains orientalism which is depicted through the stereotypical depictions of both the Chinese and the Huns, the view of Chinese traditions and cultural norms as restrictive to Mulan, and the constant bombardment of American culture within the film all of which is to better appeal to an American audience.
Disney has a history of containing racist and stereotypical depictions of other cultures, and Mulan is no different (Breaux 2010). While there are many stereotypes within the film, the three characters that are the most stereotypical are Chi Fu, Shan Yu, and the Emperor. Chi Fu is animated much like the orientalist depictions of Chinese men with exaggerated features such as the flattened nose, the thin mustache and goatee, and the small slender proportions of his character (Huang 2010). In addition Chi Fu’s character has a thick accent, and his character is pompous and unlikeable. Chi Fu is much like a racist caricature of American fabrication (Eid 2011). Shan Yu is also exaggerated but in a different way. Shan Yu’s character is hulk-like with arms that are as wide as his head, grey skin, yellow eyes, pointed teeth, and thick downturned eyebrows. For a representation of a Mongolian, Shan Yu is grotesque. The last most overdone stereotypical character is the Emperor. The Emperor has long white eyebrows, long white mustache, and long white beard. His nose is also flattened, and his speech is peppered with fortune cookie adages such as “the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” The Emperor completely plays into the stereotypical wise old Chinese man. One of the reasons why Disney might have included these stereotypes is that these are stereotypical perceptions that Americans had of the Chinese. In addition to the stereotypes, Disney places American values on the main character as well.
The original story of Mulan stems from a Chinese ballad in which Mulan joins the army to fulfill her filial piety, which is the supreme virtue of children in traditional Chinese culture (Xu & Tian 2013). However, in the Disney film Mulan joins the army to save her father changing the motivation to familial love, and therefore making the story easier for Americans to empathize. Mulan is an easy heroine for Americans to root for, since she does not seem to easily fit into the roles society places her in. Mulan is first expected to bring her family honor by getting married. The song “Honor to Us All” reinforces gender stereotypes and claims that Mulan should resemble a “perfect porcelain doll” to be able to find a husband. This stresses the inequalities of the traditional Chinese culture and presents the opposition of American culture by providing...

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