Brow Beat

Mike Pence Simply Must Be Confronted About Mulan at the Debate

On the right, Mike Pence sits down for the debate. On the left, Hua Mulan.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Mark Wilson/Getty Images and Disney.

With two presidential candidates over the age of 70 and Donald Trump currently sick with COVID-19, the stakes of the vice presidential debate on Wednesday are as high as for any in recent memory. Mike Pence and Kamala Harris will try to prove that, if necessary, they are each capable of stepping in to lead a country that in just a few months has seen a pandemic, a recession, and mass protests over racist police violence. But the past few months have also brought us a new Mulan movie, and Pence must be pressed about his bizarre reaction to the 1998 animated Disney original.

“Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military,” Pence, then a conservative radio host, wrote in an op-ed on his show’s website at the time, apparently unaware that stories about Mulan date back like 1,500 years, and that adapting folk tales and fairy tales with songs and cute animal sidekicks is kind of Disney’s whole thing. “I suspect that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right. (Just think about how often we think of Bambi every time the subject of deer hunting comes into the mainstream media debate.)”

Actually, the filmmakers behind the live-action Mulan seem to have agreed with the vice president on one point. “It is instructive that even in the Disney film, young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer!” Pence wrote, complaining, “Me thinks the politically correct Disney types completely missed the irony of this part of the story.” The vice president concluded:

You see, now stay with me on this, many young men find many young women to be attractive sexually. Many young women find many young men to be attractive sexually. Put them together, in close quarters, for long periods of time, and things will get interesting. Just like they eventually did for young Mulan. Moral of story: women in military, bad idea.

Sure enough, the new version omits Mulan’s love interest and captain, Li Shang, instead giving her a romantic prospect who is a fellow soldier rather than someone with authority over her. That’s just one of the several subjects of controversy that have plagued the remake, from Disney’s decision to film partly in Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million Muslim Uighurs and other minorities are being detained, to star Liu Yifei’s support for the police taking on protesters in Hong Kong, to the movie’s overwhelmingly white creative team.

But now that Walt Disney has addressed one of the vice president’s principal criticisms of the original film, the American people must know: Are you happy now, Mike Pence?