As part of my media fast this month, I made myself a list of fun things to do instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media. I decided to cross one off the list: watching a Disney movie!
When I put the DVD of Mulan into my player, I was expecting to enjoy the songs, and to be sucked into the excitement of the story.
I was not expecting to laugh out loud or to cry real tears.
I’ve seen this movie hundreds of times. I love it. But I’ve never been effected this way. For many reasons, the story of Mulan really resonated with me at this point in my life.
Maybe I’m overreacting, maybe I’m overemotional, maybe it’s “that time of the month”… but today, Mulan hit me right in the feels.
Some moments that really got me:
I LOVE “Honor to us all,” one of the most catchy songs ever. I love the colorful transformation Mulan undergoes. I’ve always loved this sequence.
The clear theme here is that Mulan is being “primped and polished” into a mold that she clearly does not fit. She is no “perfect porcelain doll”… and it’s obvious that none of us are.
Watching this time, however, I paid close attention to the little scenes in between the beauty treatments, when Mulan walks outside and interacts with the townspeople.
She seeks justice, returning a doll to a little girl who was being bullied. She becomes distracted by a logic puzzle and makes an incredibly skillful move.
These little gems of Mulan’s true self were so significant.
She is brilliant and intellectual, protective and truth-seeking. She can’t stand her stiff appearance, and twists out some loose hair to fit her own taste.
The lyrics are as stifling as the dress Mulan dons… have you ever truly listened? The townspeople are bound by concrete societal expectations. The pressure to “bear sons” and support the emporer, to be perfectly beautiful and subservient… They don’t just proclaim these things– they truly believe in them.
Mulan may be powerless to change her corseted situation, but she still maintains her agency. She is a player in her own life. She takes charge in what little ways she can. She is never complicit in her own personal oppression.
This is how I feel right now– how I have felt for literally years. Stuck in my major, my school, my town… unable to change my basic situation and unable to really move forward.
All I have been able to do is make my little marks where I can, hoping to improve little experiences here and there. I have challenged myself, I have traveled, I have pushed myself toward self-care.
Seeing Mulan do the same thing, I am so encouraged!
[Side note: following this revelation, I laughed so hard I cried during the scene in the matchmaker’s house! Too funny.]
Here come the waterworks.
Of course Mulan is emotional right now. She has just had the worst day of her entire life, and it’s not even halfway over yet.
These lyrics hit me hard, because they resonated so purely with thoughts I myself have struggled with recently.
Can it be I’m not meant to play this part?
Realizing that your true self isn’t appreciated– or even worse, causes you personal suffering– is one of the most painful moments anyone can go through. Similar to “when trying your best just isn’t good enough,” this one cuts deep.
Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?
What started my entire journey toward mental health was this sentiment. I simply didn’t feel like myself anymore. It scared me.
Countless appointments, doctors, pills, and therapy sessions later… I feel like I’m getting closer again. But this is a feeling I know all too well.
Somehow I cannot hide who I am, though I’ve tried.
Story of my entire life.
I have hidden myself from the world, from those I care about, and most importantly from ME. I have stuffed myself away for years, ignoring my feelings, tirelessly pushing ahead in a never-ending quest for accomplishment.
Who I am is now starting to peek out.
I’ve tried and tried and tried to ignore pain and suffering, to not deal with big issues, and to not care for my own wellbeing. My closet of demons has gotten too full, and my mess is spilling out all over the floor of my life.
I cannot hide any longer. I have to face this.
When will my reflection show who I am inside?
When will my efforts finally reach the surface? When will this battle finally end? When will being authentic be easy? When can I stop being afraid of myself?
This is deep stuff, Mulan. Really deep for a Disney movie. [joke.. Disney movies are SO DEEP]
Feminist Mandi loves Mulan. This is the ultimate girl-power movie, but it does so in the most subtle way.
Girl jokes are every other line in the script. By the end of the movie, you realize how stupid they all are.
Mulan provokes some seriously snarky feels.
Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons?
They sure did, jerk! And that daughter is the best soldier China has ever known!
Be a man! You must be swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon, with all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon.
These ridiculous expectations of masculinity are so endemic in our society. These lyrics are fantastic, but they also show why feminism is for ALL genders. Nobody can live up to this!
Watching Mulan reach the arrow as the choir roars “BE A MAN” makes me want to shout out loud! YASSS!
And, by the way, she had that victory because of her incredible smarts. Translation: by being precisely herself.
“Stupid girly habits: Hygiene.”
Watching this time, I was surprised by how much “nudity” is involved in the plot of Mulan! Of course, it only makes sense. The perils of cross-dressing and all… but still!
What I LOVED was seeing Mulan as a perfect example of body positivity.
They call her too skinny, and she doesn’t even bat an eye.
She goes to take a dip in the pond regardless of the extreme risk of someone seeing her body (significant not only because it happens to be a female body).
Mulan is not at ALL ashamed of her figure, never once seems bashful, and is never self-deprecating about her appearance.
Her cup is simply brimming over with positive self-image. You go, girl.
I also found myself awed by the presence of deep spirituality in this movie.
Although the entire thing could be considered a comedy, the spiritual practices of our main characters were portrayed with incredible respect and reverence.
Mulan’s major power scene (leaving home for the army) begins with her taking a moment to say a prayer in the family shrine. Shang and Mulan pray in the midst of tragedy in the Tung Shao pass.
Even Grandma’s left-field superstitions turn out to hold some truth!
Some of the deepest emotional moments in this film incorporated spirituality in some way, which I really really loved.
Of course, the last third of the movie is so deep and so perfect… I won’t even go into it here.
Let’s just say that when the imperial city all kneeled in respect, I had more tears. That score, though!!!
I am so glad I chose to watch this movie, and that I connected so deeply with it this time around.
This is how I always want to live life: deeply in the present moment, deeply connected to my feelings, open and vulnerable to being affected by whatever comes my way.
I’ve spent too long hidden and “protected.” Like Mulan, I’m ready to wipe off that mask and get on with my true self.
PS- I hope this made you want to go watch the movie again. Cause you totally should!
The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all. — The Emporer, Mulan