Monday, June 4, 2012

#36: A Great Honor

(c) Disney
Mulan, 1998
watched May 28, 2012

I've always thought it was cool that Mulan not only kicks ass (yup, I just said "kicks ass" about a Disney character. I can do that, because this is my blog), but that she's also the first Disney "princess" to resemble the faces I grew up with--my mom's, my aunties', my sister's, my own. And as I've grown in my own ethnic journey as Chinese American woman, I appreciate how significant this is.

Instead of the painful racial stereotypes found in past Disney films, Mulan brings a refreshing humanity to the Chinese people and culture. This adaptation of the ancient legend tells a compelling story about a Chinese woman, a voice not often heard throughout literature and history. Two memorable scenes seem to linger within me as I reflect on the film's connection to the experience of Chinese (and more broadly, Asian) women.

First, when the Emperor appears he's about to rebuke Mulan for her disobedience and recklessness, he instead commends her for saving China, giving her the highest honor: his personal gratitude. She reacts in shock, turning around to see the entire kingdom of China bowing to her.

Then, as Mulan presents Shan-Yu's sword and the Emperor's crest to her father, she hopes she might at last bring honor to the family. Falling to his knees in an uncharacteristically candid manner, Fa Zhou tosses the symbols of honor aside and embraces Mulan. He says,
"The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter."
Inexplicably, my eyes start to water uncontrollably at these moments. Must be the dust.

At last, Mulan is publicly recognized for her accomplishments. She is called a hero; she is called worthy. As it's culturally frowned upon for Asian women to call attention to our achievements, we constantly look to others for approval. We long for the assurance that we are worth something, that what we do matters. Perhaps I feel this more acutely as someone naturally drawn to behind-the-scenes work. In any case, the praise Mulan receives represents the affirmation that I yearn for as an Asian American woman. Watching the multitudes honor Mulan helps me see that I, too, contribute something valuable to my community, even if it looks very different from what's traditionally accepted.

On the other hand, Asian women also become trapped in a constant cycle of people-pleasing, trying hard to earn a place at the table, to prove themselves good enough. Success always seems out of reach. The last scene with Mulan and her father echoes good news: achieving greatness has nothing to do with the unconditional love my Father has for his daughter.

When I am prone to see myself as unworthy, useless, or unlovable, Mulan reminds me of the truth: I'm a deeply beloved daughter of God, empowered with unique gifts that can change the world. This message isn't just for Asian women, but for all who call him Father. Indeed, it's an honor to us all.

1 comment:

  1. love this post! i tear up too at those same moments. i really love this movie. i think it might be my favorite after having watched it again. it's just such an empowering movie and makes me want to be a better person.

    and... we still need to get that coffee or have that brown bag lunch to talk about the conference. :) although it may not happen until after niset! sigh.