Shaun Lucas

Opinion Editor

Last week, I wrote about the financial troubles of movie theaters during the Covid-19 pandemic.  I expressed my preference of at-home releases and streaming services, seeing physical theaters as outdated and expensive, especially with a virus present. Ending the article, I also stated comparing sales of “Mulan” (2020) and new theater releases would hint at the presence of movie theaters in the near future.

With an approximate $205,000,000 budget, “Tenet” earned $207,000,000 worldwide as of Sept. 13, according to IMDb. As of the same date with an approximate $200,000,000 budget, “Mulan” earned only $37,000,000 worldwide, according to IMDb. Even during a pandemic it seems people would rather pay for movie tickets on a big screen than pay $30 for an at-home rental.

Before theorizing “Mulan’s” poor performance, recall that “The Lion King” (2019) earned approximately $191,770,759 solely in America on opening weekend, according to IMDb. This along with the previous success of films like “Aladdin” (2019) and “Beauty and the Beast” (2019), displays the financial potential of recreating classic Disney films. So why is Disney retelling “Mulan” currently faltering to even earn back its budget? Even with the $30 fee, no ticket sales is one obvious difference between “Mulan” and previous Disney remakes.

With that said, “Mulan” was overall a press and public relations nightmare. Fans of the 1998 “Mulan” would be disappointed by the new version’s complete removal of both musical numbers and characters such as Mushu the dragon. These aspects were iconic to the original film, with removing them diminishing the personality and charm of the well-known story. To add to this, there’s little reason to pay an additional $30 when the original is already streaming without an extra fee on Disney Plus.

Much more egregious was the human rights controversies behind the film’s production. Back in 2019, the film’s main actress, Lui Yifei, supported police brutality in Hong Kong through a post on Chinese media platform, Weibo. “I also support Hong Kong police. You can beat me up now,” Yifei said, with her original post translated to English. If anything, it’s ironic that Mulan, a character fighting to gain freedom for her people, is portrayed by an actress supporting the opposite. Within production, certain scenes were filmed in Chinese detention camps holding primarily Muslim inmates, according to BBC. I cannot fathom how any executive allowed filming on such controversial property, especially when Disney’s funding would likely support any other locations executives would suggest.

All this lead to “#BoycottMulan” trending on Twitter over recent weeks. “This film is released today. But because Disney kowtows to Beijing, and because Liu Yifei openly and proudly endorses police brutality in Hong Kong, I urge everyone who believes in human rights to #BoycottMulan,” Hong Kong civil rights activist Joshua Wong tweeted on Sept. 4.

“Mulan” isn’t the only controversial digital film released this week: French film “Cuties” released on Netflix to heavy criticism, showcasing horrifically uncomfortable scenes of young girls dancing provocatively. As a reviewer, I always ensure to gain my own opinions on a work, trying to view the work in a “non-media-influenced” context. It’s the reason I watched “Joker” on my own, despite media outlets claiming the film encourages violence. 

However, the clip I watched on Twitter, posted by @GhostJim4 featured girls around 8 years-old twerking and slapping each other’s behinds. Cameras also heavily focused on the girl’s body, featuring very exposing close-up shots. It made me more uncomfortable than any other film I’ve seen, and I likely wouldn’t handle viewing the entire film. Others seemed to share my sentiment, as “#CancelNetflix” has once again gained traction after the film’s Sept. 9 Netflix release. Ironically, the film’s sexualy aspects criticize society’s oversexualization of young girls, according to The Verge.

The issue I take with these intentions is underaged girls are still being exploited for a social message. This is much different than an actor/actress of legal age, as the children likely don’t comprehend the statements their product is making. I cannot imagine the poor girls now associated with such content due to the actions of filmmakers.

I’m glad people are demanding better from film creators. Viewers refusing to support problematic material sends the message that creators won’t financially succeed without positive changes. While there are instances where the work can be separated from the creator, the offenses of these films are beyond audiences neglecting. Hopefully, it will be a while before we have to protest against exploitative products such as these two films. Then, society can focus upon supporting creative and positively-impactful films, enhancing our culture and empathy towards vast stories across the world.