An Open Letter to Robert Iger, CEO, Disney:
I am a single Mom and have two amazing daughters born in China. Mulan has held a special place in my heart, and in the lives of my daughters, long before she even arrived in theaters.
In April of this year, I marked by 32nd visit to Walt DisneyWorld. As my daughters (marking their 14th and 12th vists) walked around Hollywood Studios, I was reminded of a much earlier visit, before I became a Mom, that included a tour of the Disney Animation exhibit. At that time, there were animation exhibits which included artists workstations on which were displayed 'works in progress' of features in development. I loved the drawings of Tarzan but the ones that caught my heart were of Mulan.
I had recently begun the process to adopt but had not yet shared that news with my family and friends, and seeing Mulan peeking out at me from a drawing displayed on a desktop truly took my breath away.
A couple of years later, I received the referral of my first daughter shortly before heading to DisneyWorld on a business trip. As it happened, I was leaving WDW on the day that the feature animated film "Mulan" was opening (June 19, 1998). When I arrived home, I headed to the theater and sat in a Saturday afternoon matinee, alone, with the referral photo in my pocket, happy tears staining my face.
In September of that year, I carried my new daughter off the plane and into my home. I was a Mom. And I found myself searching for Asian dolls and role models for my wonderful bundle of joy. As soon as Mulan was available on VHS (which I think was February of 1999), we bought it. My daughter, not yet 2, was in love with Mulan. She watched the movie over and over and over. I tracked down a version in Mandarin and had it shipped from China. We loved the Chinese version just as much.
In 2001, when we returned to China to adopt my second daughter, my eldest, now 4, raced to the top of the Great Wall and spun around and around ... she cam running into my arms with questions bursting from her lips. "Momma!! where is Shanyu?? where did he climb over the wall?" ... As we toured the Forbidden City, her eyes were wide with wonder. This was where the Emperor lived!! "Look Momma!! it's real!!"
Along with my second daughter came the need for Mulan on DVD. She too was mesmerized by the story, learned English by singing the songs. I have a large box of every Happy Meal Mulan toy offered!!
Our annual trips to WDW include not only shopping in the China pavilion but the "hunt for Mulan". My girls (and I) can not understand why Mulan is such a scarce presence at WDW.
So, in 2005, I added a "Breakfast with the Princesses" in Epcot to our usual "Breakfast with Mary Poppins", "Dinner with Cinderella", and "Lunch with Pooh and Friends'. I thought this will be a good opportunity to see Mulan. It was.
It was also the first day of Lunar New Year.
While many girls arrived dressed as Cinderella, Aurora, or Jasmine, my girls wore beautiful emerald green qi pao trimmed in gold threads. I was so happy to see the Disney Princesses make a fuss over the girls and they all crowded around our table when Mulan finally arrived!! To see their faces light up as Mulan fussed over them and complimented them on their dresses and hair ... well, I have to tell you, it was truly a 'magic of Disney moment' in our lives.
And now we come to the "princess makeover" ... I can not explain clearly enough how devastating it is to the image of Mulan, the dissolution of her character as a strong girl taking pride in 'be true to yourself', to see her 'sexed up' like a Kardashian sister! Mulan has fallen victim to a bad plastic surgeon! Her chin implant to round out her face, the collagen injected into her lips to plump them up, the bleaching of her skin to an alabaster white, and of course the wardrobe malfunction do nothing to enhance Mulan's character or story and in fact make her a victim of a very bad 'extreme makeover'.
Disney's treatment, or mis-treatment, of Mulan, Pocahontas and Merida show a blatant disregard for the image issues facing young girls today.
You had a tremendous opportunity to make a strong statement.
The introduction of Merida could have enhanced the trio as strong, independent-minded young women who learn to balance self with duty ... who recognize intelligence and good-looks are not mutually exclusive ... who attract partners who respect women for their intelligence and self-sufficency as much as their beauty ... who are leaders in their own right but who can partner successfully for the betterment of their families, their people and themselves.
Disney could have embraced a path similar to Dove's 'love the body you have' campaign .... Disney could have strengthened young women ...
I am most disappointed that instead you chose the low road to profits ... the flash and sizzle, vogue on the outside vague on the inside, sexualized fantasy road to riches.
And while my daughters are disappointed, I am infuriated that you have turned Mulan into a sexual stereotype feeding sex-slave/human trafficking nightmares around the world.
As the parent of girls, I shudder at the rape culture our society has fostered but as the parent of Asian girls, I fight a special kind of stereotype that truly frightens me for the well-being of my girls as they head off to college and enter the 'real world'.
Disney has global influence. Disney shapes society's view of girls and girls' view of themselves. I wish it wasn't true. I know that family is the greatest influence but it is harder and harder to shield our children from the onslaught of sexualized and sensationalized imagery. Disney had been a welcome partner in the edification of children ... Mulan was such a gift to us as parents of transracially adopted girls; Pocahontas - although met with reisistance by purists at first - was portrayed as noble and forthright and loyal - environmentally-minded at a time when we need to encourage Earth-awareness more than ever; Merida was a fun, athletic, smart self-rescuing princess that filled a need all children have to know they can, and should, stand up for themselves.
Disney could have, no Disney should have, capitalized on this opportunity and used it to set a new bar for characterizations of girls and women.
I am so incredibly sad that you failed to recognize this opportunity. I am so incredibly sad that you have missed the mark by a wide margin. I am so incredibly sad that you have not stepped up and taken the lead on this issue.
I watched you on The View this week, saluting Barbara Walters as she announced her retirement. Barbara is a leader of women .. a hero to women of my generation. I remember watching her take her seat next to Harry Reasoner and thinking "wow!! this is big!!".
It is disappointing that a company that can celebrate the long and amazing career of "firsts" of a woman such as Barbara Walters could be so oblivious to their own efforts at un-doing those forward steps.
PLEASE, take this letter to heart ... STOP the Princess Makeovers ... LISTEN to what is happening in our society ... STEP UP and assume a leadership role in making a positive impact, a true difference in encouraging and empowering young women, here and around the world.
Bonnie J. Ward
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