So the other day I watched a very interesting video about the new Mulan movie. It was by a Chinese person, explaining why several things were done in a way that is inherently alien to the Chinese culture.
I also recall that the original Mulan was not a hit in China for similar reasons, though the live action remake seems to be doing even worse.
Personally, I love the original Mulan animated feature, just like I like the Chinese ballad (what I have read of it). I remember finding it odd when I heard that Chinese people didn't like it.
The same seems to have happened with Moana, and I assume similar complaints will have been made for Pocahontas, though I'm too lazy to research that right now.
When Hercules came out, I also joined the group of ethnically matched people that didn't like the representation done in the movie that was ethnically relevant. I later habituated enough to look past the blatant disregard for everything that defines the identity of my heritage to enjoy Hercules for what it is. But at first, I felt distress and deep dislike, and wished so badly that Ancient Greece had gotten at least half the love I thought I was seeing in Mulan's Ancient China.
This doesn't always happen. Though it does happen frequently. For example, there is an episode of M*A*S*H where a Greek unit comes around Easter time, and shenanigans ensue with a live goat. This made me grin, and laugh, and feel so happy that a production which was not Greek managed to represent my culture so well. The sheer joy I got from that one episode is something I almost never get from how Greeks are represented in non-Greek media.
So it occurs to me, having now also watched the video the Chinese lady made, that there's a good argument to be had when it comes to cultural appropriation that doesn't necessarily stem from a desire to belittle a different culture. It comes from a lack of concern.
And while I believe that someone seeking to just dress up in something fancy in Halloween is not supposed to be held accountable as appropriating cultures (unless they are clearly aiming to ridicule the culture), a company that takes up the task to represent a culture to large audiences should.
For many reasons. First off, because a big part of those audiences are likely to first come in contact with this culture through that company's piece. Stereotypes will be taken at face value, patterns and impressions also will be associated with that culture for a long period of time. The sheer damage that can be done if a culture is misrepresented in a piece of work intended at large audiences is likely to be massive.
Second off, seeing your culture misrepresented for everyone to see is a very unhappy experience. It can also be hurtful if you think to yourself “is this really how foreigners see us?” Even worse when something sacred or important, or otherwise significant to you is displayed in wrong ways.
Third off, it shows that though effort was put in other aspects of the film, no effort or concern was shown for the people the culture of whom the company is using to make money. It teaches the corporate world not to care about representation, because a sloppy smear of that culture's veneer is enough to make them money.
So what I'm saying is, when drawing from a culture that isn't yours, put in the effort necessary to represent them as best you can. It doesn't all have to be right. All there needs to be is effort. And a bit of love. The respect will show if you do that.
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 26, 2020
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