UPDATE: A source close to production has told Vulture that although the spec script was used as a starting point for Disney's live-action adaptation, all of the primary roles will be Chinese and Mulan herself will be the protagonist:
"The spec script was a jumping-off point for a new take on the story that draws from both the literary ballad of Mulan and Disney’s 1998 animated film... Mulan is and will always be the lead character in the story, and all primary roles, including the love interest, are Chinese."
Original article follows.
One of the last movies to be released during the Disney Renaissance, Mulan remains a favorite among Disney fans, and it was no surprise when Disney recently confirmed that a live-action adaptation was on the way. Based on an old Chinese legend, Mulan is about an awkward young woman who chooses to take her father's place in the Chinese army when he is called to serve in a war against the invading Huns.
Given the number of recent whitewashing controversies in Hollywood, it was a relief when initial reports made it clear that Disney was seeking to cast a Chinese actress in the lead role. However, new concerns have arisen in the wake of details about the original spec script for the movie, The Legend of Mulan, which was written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin.
A guest post in the blog Angry Asian Man, claims that The Legend of Mulan is about "A white merchant [whose] business brings him to the heart of a legendary Asian conflict," and who "unwittingly helps save the day while winning the heart of [Mulan]." Though the writer of the post is anonymous other than describing themselves as "an Asian-American person in the industry," actor Joel de la Fuente (The Man in the High Castle) has corroborated the details, saying, "I can back you up on what you’re saying. I confirm everything you said about that draft." Here are further details on the script, taken from the blog post.
The man is a 30-something European trader who initially cares only for the pleasure of women and money. The only reason why he and his entourage decide to help the Chinese Imperial Army is because he sets eyes on Mulan. That's right. Our white savior has come to the aid of Ancient China due to a classic case of Yellow Fever. In this script written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, more than half of its pages are dedicated to this merchant who develops a mutual attraction with Mulan and fights to protect her in the ensuing battles. To top it all off, this man gets the honor of defeating the primary enemy of China, not Mulan. Way to steal a girl's thunder.
It's worth noting that Disney has brought on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver to rewrite the original script, so it's likely that the studio will minimize or even remove the role of the white merchant who wins Mulan's heart. So far the studio's live-action remakes have skewed closely to the animated movies upon which they're based - aesthetically, at least. The Jungle Book's ending was different in the recent remake, and Maleficent heavily reinvented Disney's take on Sleeping Beauty, but both films featured costumes and songs from the animated films.
The key concern with the addition of the love interest described above would be the potential removal of Li Shang, the army captain who trains Mulan and leads her army division against the Huns, with a romantic attachment eventually blossoming between them. Li Shang also sings the movie's best-known song, "I'll Make a Man Out Of You." Since there are few key roles for Asian actors in Hollywood, and fewer still that portray Asian men as being romantically desirable, the removal of Li Shang would be quite a blow - both to Asian-Americans seeking greater representation on the big screen, and to Disney fans who love the relationship between Mulan and Li Shang.
Though there certainly remains a school of thought in Hollywood that movies need a white and/or male lead in order to be a success, releasing a live-action remake of Mulan with the changes described above would be such a disastrous move for Disney that it seems unlikely to come to fruition. Still, fans are understandably concerned by these details of the spec script, and have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #MakeMulanRight to demand that the studio does justice to the well-loved tale.
Mulan opens in U.S. theaters on November 2nd, 2018.