20 years of Mulan - how it set the bar for feminism in Disney films
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Today marks 20 years since Disney's famous film, Mulan, was released in cinemas. I actually came to Mulan rather late, having missed out on the film as a child, and watched it for the first time just two years ago. There have been many arguments over the years about what Disney's most feminist film is, but it is undebatable that Mulan paved the way for future Disney heroines like Merida, Rapunzel, Tiana, Elsa and Moana to continue breaking glass ceilings. And it is still, 20 years on, a really important film for young girls. First off, it's important to note that Mulan is not technically a princess. She's part of the Disney franchise of Princesses, but she does not have any royal blood, nor does she marry a prince. Mulan is, at least at the start of her movie, an ordinary Chinese woman. This might seem like a strange thing to point out, but it's actually one of the things that make her such a good role model for young girls even 20 years on. She demonstrates that you don't have to be a princess to change the world, and that being a princess is not the only thing that women have to aspire to be; you can aspire to be a warrior instead, and that's just as awesome. Mulan's story doesn't revolve around her romance, but rather her romance with Shang is somewhat of an afterthought. Her goal throughout the entire story is protecting her family (the whole reason she joins the army in the first place is to make sure her elderly father doesn't have to fight) and her country, and falling for Shang is just something that happens along the way. The achievement in this film is not falling in love with Shang, it's saving China. Mulan challenges gender stereotypes, as she proves (albeit whilst all the other characters think she is a man) that women are strong and capable. Most pointedly however, when she saves China, she does so as a woman. In the film's climactic fight scene, where Mulan is fighting Shan Yu, she does so as herself, not dressed in armour, or in the costume she is made to wear by the matchmaker at the beginning of the movie: she embraces both parts of her identity, as a woman and as a soldier.
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