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Role of Mulan in today's Society Assignment Help

Research paper  about Mulan. The purpose of it is to compare the role of Mulan in today society and show how the movie expresses our dreams, anxieties, fears or treats a problematic cultural issue of our world or transitions or epiphany.

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Changing Roles in cinema and portrayal of Mulan as a positive role model


Disney's movies have played an integral part in shaping the minds and personality as well as filling the childhood of kids with positive empowering messages and strong characters to emulate. The first phase of Disney’s movies was popularly called the ‘Golden Age’ (1937-1942) it included the classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, Bambi, 101 Dalmatians among many others. This age was followed by the Disney Renaissance age (1989-1999) which represented unconventional families, gender roles and versatile representation of different ethnicities such as portrayed in Mulan, Tarzan, Lion King and The Little Mermaid among many others. The characters were different from the conventional princess story plots. The message of the movies was more fluid and progressive in nature. Mulan portrays the changing roles in cinema through its dynamic storyline. The essay aims to analyse the impact of Mulan as a positive role model for women. The themes to be discussed are societal expectations vs. personal dream, bravery vs. persistence and the role of the father as Mulan’s mentor.

The movie Mulan is set in a small Chinese village where a young girl disguises as a man to fill her sick father’s position in the army in order to fight for the Emperor and defend their country. The movie plot was a refreshing break from the stereotypical damsel in distress plots. For the movie began with the regressive idea and established the idea of the ideal woman through the scene where Mulan is being dressed in preparation of meeting a potential suitor and also set the stage for gendered hierarchy through the song ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ which the protagonist would set forth to break.

The movie of Mulan has been inspired by a poem named The Ballad of Mulan. The movie depicts the struggles of Hua Mulan as she tries to fit into the stereotypes that are followed in their culture. It is a refreshing Disney movie which breaks the conventional gender roles and the freedom of expression of their dreams. She decides to disguise as a boy and join the army instead of her sick father which is a daunting task and seems like an unachievable goal. However, the protagonist not just breaks the stereotypes attached but redefines gender roles by being the strongest soldier in the army who does not let her limitations stop her. 

Section 1: Archetypes in the movie 

Mulan is one of the first Disney movies which was solely based on an Asian cast and included culturally diverse character. Mulan also treated gender and sexuality in a unique way. For instance, the main characters of the movie which included Captain Li Shang who was the most eligible soldier in the Chinese Army who falls in love with Mulan when she was disguised as a boy and challenged set gender roles as well as Mulan’s father Fa Zhou who risks the execution of his daughter if she is found out to have disguised as a boy portraying adult fear. Another instance is how her family reacts to her decision of going to war. Her mother, Fa Li is a compassionate and understanding character who does not insult her daughter when she fails the matchmaking exam and was scared for Mulan’s wellbeing and safety when she decides to join the army. 

The main female archetype of Mulan was the “badass archetype” which focuses on imposing male characteristics on a female character to make her appear powerful. For instance, she was empowered during the boot camp which helped her improve her skills as a soldier and become the most skilled soldier in the army. Many action films in the 20th century focused on portraying the female characters that were damsels in distress who needed to be saved. The filmmakers challenged this conventional portrayal by imposing “badass” characteristics to the heroines. However, the overuse of this archetype gave way to a phenomenon called badass fatigue. In order for this archetype to be used in a refreshing manner, a female character must not just possess masculine characteristics but also possess the physical strength to combat men and win. 

The movie challenges gender roles and stereotypes by making effective use of songs to portray the inner turmoil that Mulan is going through as she struggles to fulfil the normative feminine role that her family and society wants her to be. She is well aware that she will never be able to pass for the perfect bride or daughter. This entire struggle is beautifully portrayed during the song ‘Reflections’. She then challenges the gender roles by rebelling and joining the army in Li Shang’s regiment instead of her father. She still has not broken the stereotype attached to her and tries to merely fill her father’s shoes and prove that she can do a man’s duty just as well. 

Regressive nature and ideologies followed during the time were displayed through the song ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ where Li Shang condemns the boisterous and rowdy behaviour of the soldiers. He sets examples of good behaviour by singing and challenging the soldiers to show their ‘manliness’ through fine skills manship and not through picking their nose and fighting over small incidents. According to Mackey et al., the male stereotype of rough, rowdy and undisciplined soldiers are portrayed as she enters the camp (511). She witnessed firsthand the lack of social manners and fights over minor incidents which disgust and frighten her. The stark contrast between the normative ideal female and male stereotypes is evident from this event when compared to the previous scenes with the matchmaker. Li Shang is portrayed as a progressive man who challenges this stereotype by telling his soldiers that honing fighting skills is a better judge of manliness than their regressive behaviour.

Mulan fulfils this challenge and incorporates Li Shang’s idea of the perfect man by mastering the same. 

Her transformation from a cross-dressing female soldier into the new definition of an empowered woman is communicated through an entertaining and brilliant training montage which has been copied by many Hollywood action films due to its sheer brilliance such as the Rocky series and Never Back Down. The movie has successfully used the “badass archetype” and changed how gender roles are viewed as Mulan who goes under the pseudonym Ping not just excels in training but becomes the strongest and most capable soldier in the regiment (Wibisono, 233). 

The instances that show the journey of Mulan from an ordinary girl to an empowered woman is shown through the struggles she had while coping up with the soldiers in the army and when her father Fa Zhou was teaching her how to use a sword. He acted as Mulan’s mentor and is considered as a living legend by the villagers who stand aside in his honour while he walks up to receive the conscription notice. Although Fa Zhou was a traditionalist and was furious at Mulan when she failed her matchmaking exam, he was an understanding father who mentored Mulan making her capable to join the army. Thus, she completed her character development in a significant manner by using her feminine wit to complement her physical strength.

Section 2: Comparison of the role of Mulan in today’s society 

Mulan is a significant movie because of its unconventional representation of gender roles and feminist perspectives on breaking stereotypes in a realistic manner through the duality of female and male characteristics within Mulan and her capability to embody both. The song ‘I’ll make a man out of you’ strongly depicts how men and women should be and are represented in our culture.

Kellner’s three-step method was created by Kellner to effectively analyse the cultural context represented in media. It includes a three-step process. The first step is analysing the role of production and political economy and involves analysing the importance that production and political economy has in analysing any media. In the case of Mulan, the primary audience of the movie were children so this step emphasises on the appropriate context that can be used in the movie for children (Mo, 67). The lessons that children will learn through this movie are first determined which are that women are not required to be submissive. They can take matters into their own hands, work hard just like Mulan who goes to war despite her societal norms dictating otherwise. The movie promotes women empowerment as well as reinforces the patriarchal stereotypes through Commander Li Shang. This is successfully achieved by making Mulan do what was considered to be unimaginable for women to do.

The second step of analysis is a textual analysis which aims to identify the cultural context of the movie. Cultural representation plays a critical role throughout the movie. It is portrayed first through the use of a sword and armour to represent Mulan’s father’s honour and her own bravery by breaking the societal norms that are associated with their culture. The textual analysis highlights the ideologies and norms of feudal China and how the gender roles were defined by them. Effective symbolism has been used to showcase the same throughout the movie. Cultural references are open to perception and audiences will perceive the same symbols in a different manner based on their race, age and gender.

Audience reception and use of media culture is the last step and is correlated to the previous one and states how the same movie will be perceived differently by people belonging to different ethnicities and age groups. The cultural background of the audience will play a major role in understanding the message that the movie aimed to put across. It may be viewed as an empowering movie which persuades women to follow their own dreams, it can also be seen as a movie promoting submissiveness due to the conventional ending where Mulan goes on to become a dainty female once again. This can be viewed as her voluntarily choosing to go back to her family as a demonstration of her free will. 

Section 3: Role of symbolism in the movie 

According to Knight, symbolism is the use of symbols to effectively signify ideas and qualities (125). It is used generously in Disney movies to convey a deeper meaning and has cultural, emotional and social contexts associated with it. In the movie Mulan, colours have been used to symbolise moods and emotions. The colour red was used to symbolise sacrifice, anger, death and excitement while blue was used for signifying devotion, innocence and spirituality. The colour gold was used for wealth and prosperity and green was used to signify hope, growth and adaptability. Objects and nature too were used in the movie to symbolise inner struggle, ambition, barrenness, speed lightness and evil through mountains, snow, feathers and shadows.

The theme of bravery vs. persistence is portrayed in the movie using the iconic scene where Mulan cuts her hair with a single stroke shows her bravery. Her resilience is portrayed through the instances where she does not give up while training and breaks out of her comfort zone becoming more assertive as the movie progresses. The expression of her personal dreams, anxieties, and fears in the movie is done in the movie through the song ‘Reflection’ which plays after she has failed her matchmaking exam and feels humiliated. The songs show her inner struggle of living up to societal expectation vs. achieving her own personal dreams. Her bravery is commendable resilience as she knew that her life would be on the line but still prepared herself for her father. Her act of bravery ultimately led the army to win the battle as well as to find the love of her life. 

All great stories are shown to fulfil the cultural needs of an area and Mulan focuses on challenging the norms of the Eastern culture which are still prevalent through the treatment of problematic cultural issues of our world. On the surface, the film adheres to the “badass archetype” of the lead women gaining strength and finding her place in a male army. The beginning of the movie shows what is expected of Mulan as she is bathed and dolled up to meet a suitor. Problematic gender roles are clearly defined in the song ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ and the cultural issues shown in the movie are popular all over the world.

However, the inner meanings of the movie are deeper and show Mulan’s character development, her bravery through the face of fear and anxiety and resilience that drove her to be the best soldier. Her hero’s journey was filled with struggles and uncertainties but nevertheless, she persevered through the hard times and never gave up on herself. Moreover, the movie also teaches its audiences to look beyond superficial and that gender roles are nothing but social norms that restrict individuals from becoming the best version of them. All of this is achieved with the effective portrayal of gender bias perceived in both the Eastern and Western culture and the movie’s treatment of the same in a progressive way.


The Renaissance age of Disney movies portrayed unconventional families and stories which empowered the audience instead of the traditional concept of damsels in distress and princesses. It changed the mindset and perceptions of the audience and enabled them to feel positive about themselves and accept who they truly are. Movies such as Mulan represent cultural differences and similarities that exist in the Eastern and Western cultures. Mulan is one of the most progressive and innovative movies created by Disney which focuses on free will and teaches its adults that they can achieve their dreams through being brave and working hard towards it.

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