Society’s constructed perspectives about gender are influenced by characters presented in film and television illustrations. Mulan is a brave, resourceful female role model. Director, Tony Bancroft told Christian Post that "Mulan is different; it cuts the mould. It tells the story of a girl who can't help who she is but exists in a society that tells her who she is supposed to be… She changes the world around her, instead of changing herself (Martin, 2013)”. Disney effectively presents a visual contrast between modern society and traditional cultures in Mulan.
Illustrated through a historical Chinese legend, Disney produced a valuable representation of contemporary gender perspectives (Jones, 2012). This observation can be confirmed during a thorough study of the film’s contexts, contraventions and critiques. Constructed in a range of contexts; gender roles are extremely evident in Mulan, as ideas about gender forming the major themes of the film (Patterson, 2013). The constant depictions, references and comparisons between the two sexes portray China’s social and cultural ideals and expectations of men and women (Duong, 2013).
Disney executes a historical and political perspective portrayed in the film by amalgamating influential facts, events and figures from China’s historical contexts. For example, a Chinese law enforced during the Northern Wei Dynasty stated that any woman caught impersonating a man and serving in the Emperor’s army would be executed (Abramson, 2013). Society at this time believed serving in the military was the man’s role. This is clearly evident as only men were recruited from each family to serve in the emperor’s army.
Presented in a melodic context, the musical number called “honour to us all” reinforces cultural values (Disney, 1998). Whilst being primped and polished in preparation to meet the village’s matchmaker, the verse within the song reads: “Men want girls with good taste, calm, obedient, who work fast paced. With good breeding and a tiny waist, you’ll bring honour to us all” (Disney, 1998). These lyrics outline just how domesticated women’s roles were, as both the culture and the society perceived men to be more superior.
In relation to this “superiority” of men analysis, the Emperor’s advisor; Chi Fu continually expresses through his dialogue, women’s lower class status in society. Statements such as “you will do well to teach your daughter to hold her tongue in a man’s presence” and “she’ll never be worth anything (Disney, 1998),” (referring to Mulan as a women) depict the sexist cultural views present in that era. Incorporating symbolic representations into the Film’s production, the Lotus Flower symbolises Mulan and her place in society (Jones, 2012).
This point-of-view shot enables the audience to interpret what Mulan sees, as she replaces the conscription notice with the flower comb. From this, the audience has the ability to recognise the scene as Mulan swapping her female status in society to take her father’s place. Society’s constructed perspectives about gender are influenced by characters presented in film and television illustrations. Progressing forward from contexts, the film’s contraventions and rejections of stereotypical gender roles will begin to be analysed.
Women’s roles were stereotypically family orientated, whilst a Chinese man’s role was to honour his family and fulfil his duty by serving in the Emperors army. Mulan is transformed to take on the image of the ideal woman for the matchmaker. The major focus on the opening scenes reflects Mulan’s duty as a woman to bring her family honour through marriage. This close-up enables the audience to realise how society expected Mulan to change in order to meet the description of the perfect woman.
At the training camp, the musical piece “I’ll make a man out of you” portrays the Chinese cultural views of a man’s qualities. The lyrics indicate that in order to be a man one must be “swift as the coursing river. Have all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire (Disney, 1998)... ” The words summarise China’s stereotypical expectation of the ideal man being fast, forceful and strong. With society changing, the gender spectrum is altered, and like Billy Elliott, men do not necessarily fit this mould.
This low angled shot represents power and dominance (generally implemented on male characters); as the soldiers develop, they take the shape of society’s ideal men. The red background accentuates this power to the audience as the shot inflicts the men’s superiority. As the film progresses, Mulan represents the modern day woman; where her character’s position on the gender spectrum. Unlike the handmaids in Margaret Atwood’s the ‘Handmaids Tale’, Mulan does not necessarily comply with the culture’s submissive and obedient prescribed gender role.
Situated towards the masculine end of the spectrum, Mulan is portrayed as an independent, dominant female (Stella, 2011). Disney executes this rebellious change as Mulan contravenes social expectations, taking her father’s place in the army. This low angled shot of Mulan in her father’s armour reveals that as a man she is more superior, by looking like a man she gains a sense of dominance and power. Throughout the course of the film, society constructs ideas about gender as it interprets the key message of independence within the tale.
The audience has the ability to observe Mulan’s emotional battle, where society’s expectations do not reflect her character’s personal identity (Stella, 2011). This close up supports this analysis as it depicts a visual juxtaposition between the conflicting traditional views and Mulan’s character. During the song ‘Reflection’, the protagonist addresses her struggle with defying stereotypical feminine expectations. This is clearly portrayed in the verse; “How I pray, the time will come I can free myself, and meet their expectations. On that day, I’ll discover some way to be myself and make my family proud (Salonga, 2011).”
These lyrics highlight the characters inability to be herself; indicating how her culture’s gender perspectives do not reflect her as an individual. Defying society and her family’s wishes, Mulan adopts more of a male role as a soldier in the film enabling her character to blossom (symbolised through the lotus flower). Disney continues to succeed in rejecting stereotypical perspectives; reversing traditional gender roles (Serkedakis, 2009). Upholding Mulan’s independent character, Disney producers momentarily depict Shang (the masculine man) as a damsel in distress.
Traditionally, Disney princesses have been reliant on masculine figures; depicted as objects rather than subjects. Repudiating this approach, Mulan becomes the hero, saving Shang during an avalanche. Disregarding convention, Mulan (a woman) becomes the ideal soldier in the camp proving that masculinity does not necessarily require muscles and chiselled facial features. Disney reinforces the rejection of stereotypical male expectations (still present in Hollywood today); demonstrating that dedication, brains and commitment are more valuable assets in the end.
As individuals in modern western society have the freedom to adopt gender roles relevant to their personal identity rather than society’s expectations, films like Mulan reflect the contemporary gender spectrum and its varying gender perspectives (Erin, 2012). Society’s constructed perspectives about gender are influenced by characters presented in film and television illustrations. After critically analysing the illustrated rejection of stereotypical gender perspectives apparent in the film, Mulan’s value as an animation can be supported through various film reviews and critiques.
Texts and film are powerful socialisation tools; everything that we read or watch constructs us, makes us who we are, by presenting an image of ourselves. Gender portrayals contribute to children’s development of their self-image; a fundamental component in discovering their role in society and developing social values (Wood, 1994). Following Mr Bancroft’s statement at the beginning of the presentation, David Wallace (father of two) stated in a review for common sense media that children “will take good messages from the movie. Throughout the movie Mulan learns to accept herself for who she is.
Mulan is a movie about honour and integrity… Mulan is a movie the whole family can enjoy (Common Sense Media, 2011). As a valuable representation of independence, Disney has produced a fantastic film which appeals to both sexes. The educational aspect to the tale encourages boys to develop a sense of respect for women like Shang’s character did for Mulan. Whilst girls are encouraged to break the stereotypical passivity associated with female gender roles. The positive critiques generated in response to the film address the endorsement of children audiences.
Illustrating a range of contexts evident in the Northern Wei Dynasty, this motion animation picture progressively rejects stereotypical expectations apparent in traditional Chinese cultures (Shen, Sommer, 2012). Interpreted through a variety of contexts, society’s constructed gender perspectives are influenced by film and television illustrations. Portrayed through the characters themselves, media interprets contemporary ideals to reflect modern gender roles, attributions and identities. Thus, it is evident that Society’s constructed perspectives about gender are influenced by characters presented in film and television.