Orientalism in Disney’s Mulan

There are few greater example of the western world’s fascination with exoticizing and exploiting Asian cultures for entertainment than Disney movies. Most of these films are catered to children and meant to be a family fun experience but they perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices about Asian people while also pushing a unilateral and generalized identity.

While Mulan is set in China, the film meshes Japanese and Chinese culture together. In the opening sequences of the film, Mulan is depicted with white powdered makeup typical of a Japanese geisha and she is also wearing a Kimono, a style of clothing not typical in China but instead in Japan.

Despite the sacredness of ancestral rites, the movie uses the Fa family’s ancestors as an object of ridicule. We, the audience, are supposed to find them strange and humorous. Instead of respecting this cultural practice, the film openly mocks it in its portrayal.

In addition, a major theme of the movie is Mulan’s burden of bringing “honor” to her family. The word alone is mentioned 29 times in the movie. It’s the reason she visits the matchmaker in the first place and why her family attempts to force her into marriage. It’s also her motivation behind going to war and risking her life in place of her father. In doing so, the film suggests that sacrificing herself is the only way she can honor her family and make them proud. It suggests that she must do those things at all costs. Her success and good-standing in the movie is judged by her sidekick, Mushu who never fails to tell her which actions do or do not dishonor her family.

This is a common trope in western movies where filmmakers will present the idea that all Asian people live in pursuit of one thing: honor. But honor as an all encompassing value does not exist and it isn’t unique to just one culture. We all have a personal definition of honor we apply to our lives. And yet, when Belle in The Beauty and The Beast takes her father’s place as the Beast’s prisoner, we called it an act of love.

Not honor. And not 29 times.

King Lear, Narcissism & Leadership

Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s take on King Lear is compelling and presents a characterization of the King as a narcissist whose ultimate suffering is being anything different. In fact, in their article, The Madness of King Trump: On Being Unfit to Serve, they claim that the King’s Act 1 Scene 1 attack against Cordelia is only a tough love lesson on what it means to be royal. Is it harsh? Maybe. But in their words, Lear “like other egocentric rulers, rewards sycophants and punishes honesty whenever it strikes them as a threat to their grandeur.”

What follows is an intricate analysis of leaders and well, their narcissism and mania. The following question is posed: “What leader isn’t something of a narcissist, elected or no?”

Sure, no-one can argue that there are selfish political figures concerned more with their own interests rather than a constituents.

But is putting yourself first actually being a leader?

Can someone who lacks empathy, like a narcissist, be a leader?

A central point of the play is Lear learning to understand others. Lear starts to regains his empathy in the storm. After being confronted by his daughters, he recognizes the hardships that await those outside the comfort of his kingdom walls. He compares himself to them and realizes while he is complaining about how many servants there are to his name, some have no choice but to sit out in the storm. Eventually, that empathy also extends to Cordelia. Through it, he remembers why he was in power in the first place and turns the play into a humbling, arguably heroic narrative for the King.

This is when we see Lear at his best. Even though it was too late.

Maybe that’s why we excuse narcissism and “unfitness” in leaders especially political ones. If we are judging the capability of a leader based on their influence and their ability to command a troop into battle, then yes. A narcissist would be perfect for the job. Narcissists are expectional at manipulating opinions and influencing minds in order to get what they want.

Using that as the measuring point, the question is no longer whether narcissists can be leaders but when do you draw the line? And if they are the precedent, who is to follow? When Lear was deemed to mad to lead, Regan and Goneril stepped into the picture and brought wicked plans with them.

Lear doomed himself. Why? Because as narcissists do, he alienated himself. He begins the play by banishing Kent, his most loyal servant and sending Cordelia away, his most loyal daughter. He isolated himself until the power was only in one vehicle and was so easy to take. Like candy from a baby.