Disney’s live-action adaptation of “Mulan” starring Liu Yifei was preceeded by an animated version that struck a chord with Asian American viewers. | JASIN BOLAND / DISNEY / VIA AP




Disney’s new live-action “Mulan” is coming at a time when the entertainment world is still feeling tremors from the success of “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Parasite.” It was a very different landscape when the animated “Mulan” debuted in 1998: U.S. audiences were far less used to the presence of Asians onscreen, and many Asian American moviegoers felt less comfortable with depictions of themselves.

迪士尼最新真人版《花木兰》上映之际,娱乐界还在为《疯狂的亚洲富人》和《寄生虫》的成功而激动不已。相比之下,1998年动画电影《花木兰》初次上映时,情况大相径庭: 当时美国观众对出现在银幕上的亚洲面孔非常不适应,甚至许多亚裔美国观众对他们自己的荧屏形象也不太适应。

In the 1990s, Asian representation in Hollywood was even more scarce than it is today. What’s more, by the time “Mulan” came out, Asian American activists were still reeling from the failure of “All-American Girl” (1994-95), the first sitcom to feature a Korean American family.


“Everything that had an Asian American face was dumped in the same bucket,” Yang says. “The problem with that is it meant we had a limited amount of stories.”


He was relieved that the movie, directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook and starring Ming-Na Wen as the voice of the title character, was successful: It drew $304 million worldwide at the box office, ahead of “The Little Mermaid” with $184 million, according to Box Office Mojo.


Despite the animated movie’s success, “Mulan” had no immediate effect on representation in Hollywood; it didn’t open doors for its stars in the same way that “Crazy Rich Asians” would. Just a year after its release came the great “whiteout”: The 1999-2000 fall season lineup of 26 new TV shows with no actors of color in noteworthy roles, which led to protests.

尽管动画电影取得了成功,但《花木兰》在好莱坞的表现并没有立即产生影响; 它没有像《疯狂的亚洲富人》那样为明星们敞开大门。不过就在它上映一年后,出现了巨大的“白人出局”抗议。抗议源于1999至2000年秋季播出的26部新电视节目中,没有一个有色人种担任重要角色。

Today, Asian Americans remain underrepresented on the big screen: Out of Hollywood’s top 100 movies of 2018, only two lead roles went to Asian and Asian American actors (one male and one female), according to a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The Census Bureau estimates that Asian Americans make up 5.4 percent of the U.S. population, but the number is probably higher because Asian Americans — the fastest-growing demographic — are the least likely to fill out the census.

如今,亚裔美国人在大银幕上的代表仍然寥寥可数: 根据南加州大学传播和新闻学院的一项研究,在2018年好莱坞的100部电影中,只有两个主角是亚裔和亚裔美国演员(一男一女)。美国人口普查局估计亚裔美国人占美国人口的5.4%,这个数字可能更高,因为亚裔美国人是美国增长最快的人群,而他们非常有可能不填写人口普查。

Experts agree that in the 1990s Asian performers were still proving to Hollywood that audiences would be comfortable seeing them in major roles. Despite favorable reviews for the 1993 adaptation of “The Joy Luck Club,” martial arts films like “Rumble in the Bronx” (1995) with Jackie Chan remained the most prominent vehicle for Asian stars.


Renee Tajima-Pena, a filmmaker and professor of Asian American studies at UCLA, says the decade was also an important time for Asian American filmmakers, who were starting to make features. (Before then, they had focused on documentaries to fight racism.) Among others, Justin Lin, who would make his mark with “Better Luck Tomorrow” (2003) and the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, got his start in 1997 with the indie “Shopping for Fangs.”

电影制作人、加州大学洛杉矶分校研究亚裔美国人的教授田岛培尼亚说,这十年对开始制作故事片的亚裔美国电影人来说也是一个重要的时期。(在那之前,他们专注于拍摄反对种族主义的纪录片。) 其中,以《明天运气更好》(2003年)和《快生活和愤怒》的特许经营而闻名贾斯汀·林就是在1997年凭借独立制片公司拍摄的《人海奇花》开始发家的。

Representation has also improved in terms of accurate portrayals of different cultures. Yang, the critic, notes that Hollywood had evolved to treat inclusion more holistically, hiring more people of color to write, produce and act in shows and movies about them.

亚洲元素电影在对不同文化的准确描绘方面,表现手法也有所改进。 评论家杨指出,好莱坞现在的包容性很强,他们会雇佣更多的有色人种去参与写作、制作和表演与他们相关的东西。

That’s how we ended up with the 2018 adaptation of “Crazy Rich Asians” and TV shows like the recently concluded “Fresh Off the Boat” (which starred Yang’s son, Hudson). “Mulan” was just one of many successes that had to happen before representation got to where it is today, he says.


“Over the last 15 years we developed that pipeline and all those people were ready to spring,” Yang says.


The more significant effects of “Mulan” may have been social and psychological. Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociologist and author of the book “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” says the movie had helped shift beauty standards: Its release was accompanied by a prolific amount of merchandise, including “Mulan” Barbie dolls, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and Mattel figurines. Asian American girls who grew up with Barbies with blond hair and blue eyes now had versions that looked like them.

“木兰”更重要的影响可能是社会和心理上的。 《拒绝不平等:好莱坞演员和种族主义》一书的作者、社会学家南希·王元说,《花木兰》帮助改变了美丽的标准,因为它的发行伴随“花木兰”芭比娃娃、麦克唐纳德的快乐餐玩具和美泰雕像等大量的商品。和金发碧眼的芭比娃娃一起长大的亚裔美国女孩们,现在有了与她们自己长相相似的芭比娃娃。

“Being able to say ‘Look at Mulan, she’s beautiful’ — for young Asian American girls, that was a big deal,” Yuen says.
Eleni Kapoulea, a graduate student of clinical psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who was 6 when “Mulan” came out, says her mother and grandparents of Cambodian descent took her to the movie eight times, and she even dressed up as Mulan for several Halloweens. As a mixed-race girl growing up in San Diego, she remembers her classmates mocking her Asian looks relentlessly on the playground.


“Mulan gave me the chance to show my pride a little bit even though the culture wasn’t necessarily directly connected to me,” she says.