In Depth

Liu Yifei to play Mulan in Disney’s live-action remake

Disney avoids ‘whitewashing’ controversy by casting Chinese star in lead role

Disney has been praised for casting a Chinese actor in the title role of its upcoming live-action version of Mulan.

Chinese TV and movie star Liu Yifei, 30, will play plucky heroine Hua Mulan in the film, which is slated for release in 2019.

Casting directors searched across five continents and auditioned nearly 1,000 actors in a year-long search for a Mulan with “credible martial arts skills, the ability to speak English and the most ineffable requirement of all: star quality,” The Hollywood Reporter says.

Liu, who has also appeared under the stage name Crystal Liu, is an actress, model and singer who began her career in TV dramas before moving into films.

She has had supporting roles in two US-Chinese co-productions - martial arts fantasy The Forbidden Kingdom and Outcast, an action movie starring Nicolas Cage, but remains little known outside her home country.

The movie is based on the 1998 Disney animation, which in turn derives from a 6th century Chinese poem about a girl who disguises herself as a man to take her ageing father’s place in the army.

“An online petition calling for an Asian actress in the role attracted more than 100,000 signatures,” the BBC reports.

Twitter users, including Ming-Na Wen, who voiced Mulan in the 1998 movie, welcomed the casting choice:

Disney has previously come under fire for alleged “whitewashing” of stories featuring non-white characters and cultures.

Earlier this year, a planned live-action remake of Aladdin was criticised for adding a white character not present in the 1992 animation.

Critics said that casting white actor Billy Magnussen to play the new role of Prince Anders was an attempt to “whitewash” the story, which is set in a fictional Middle Eastern city.

Reports that casting directors were struggling to find south Asian actors to play the lead roles in the film also provoked scorn and derision. Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud was ultimately cast as Aladdin, alongside British Asian actress Naomi Scott as Jasmin.

The casting of the forthcoming CGI reboot of The Lion King met with a more mixed reception. While many commentators praised the film’s producers for choosing black actors for the majority of the roles, some were disappointed that only two parts, Rafiki and Shenzi the hyena, went to African actors.

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