Amid geopolitical tensions, ‘Mulan’ is a litmus test for loyalties

September 9, 2020, 3:46 PM UTC

Perhaps it is the upcoming anniversary of September 11, 2001, that’s resurfaced this old College Humor video in my mind.

The skit—called Stormtroopers’ 9/11—opens with a trio of imperial troopers letting off steam at a bar. “I don’t want to be a downer, but you guys do know what tomorrow is?” asks one. “The anniversary of the Death Star,” another answers. “Bingo,” the first replies.

The skit compares the Death Star’s destruction to the heinous tragedy that befell America nineteen years ago. Following the sketch writers’ twisted logic, the U.S. could be viewed as an evil galactic empire and the rebels as terrorists. You may disagree with the framing, as I do, and still appreciate the dark humor.

I thought about the 9/11 skit while watching Disney’s newly released, live-action Mulan remake this weekend. The film is gorgeous, visually stunning. The martial arts dazzle. The “tulou” walled villages are a sight to behold, even if they are historically inaccurate.

Yet while watching the film, I could not shake an image from my mind. No doubt owing to an intensifying geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China—tit-for-tat trade wars, draconian tech bans, embassy closures—I kept picturing the emperor and his realm’s defenders —that is, Mulan and her loyal soldier companions—as stormtroopers. (Heck, they’re fighting to preserve an empire!)

The Mulan story is a source of national pride for China. The legend of the woman-warrior derives from a Wei dynasty poem circa the 5th century. The tale has been retold over the centuries. A 1939 domestic film adaptation found particular appeal with Chinese audiences who were captivated by the idea of repelling foreign invaders during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Disney’s new take has had a rockier global reception. Some reviewers have celebrated the choice of an all-Asian cast. Some have called it Disney’s best live-action remake. But other critics are calling to boycott the film after the star, Liu Yifei, expressed support for Hong Kong police amid the city’s pro-democracy protests. More still are protesting the movie since parts were filmed in Xinjiang, a minority region of China facing cultural genocide from the government.

Disney has a lot hanging on this film. It is a test of the company’s Disney+ streaming service. It is a test of the company’s ability to satisfy the Chinese market, an increasingly important one for Hollywood studios. And it could affect the fortunes of one of the company’s marquee parks, Shanghai Disneyland.

Mulan represents a litmus test for people’s loyalties. Whether one sides with the U.S., China, or Disney’s capitalistic enterprise, it’s worth remembering that good and evil are not so easily delineated as the Star Wars universe—or political propaganda, for that matter—would have one believe.

Robert Hackett

Twitter: @rhhackett


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Walking through the valley of the shadow of silicon. The bottom has fallen out from the tech-stock rally as the market sector notches its worst sell-off since March. The Nasdaq index, which heavily weights tech stocks, fell 4% Tuesday, following similar drops on Thursday and Friday. That makes this the index's fastest-ever fall from a record into the valley of correction. To put the losses into perspective: The six biggest tech stocks—Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, and Tesla—lost more than $1 trillion over the past few days. That's a lot of (vaporized) moolah; take solace in U.S. stock futures being up this morning.

Car won't start. The market's biggest loser? Tesla. The electric-vehicle maker's stock crashed 34% in the past week to $330 per share after reaching a historic high of just under $500 at the end of August. The whiplash-inducing fall from grace can be attributed to the S&P 500 index committee declining to include the stock in its hallmark index. Not so comfy now are those short shorts?

It's electric! Boogie-woogie-woogie. While Tesla boosters do the electric slide, other e-vehicle believers are rejoicing. Shares in Nikola, an electric-truck startup, supercharged 40% to $50 per share on news of a tie-up with General Motors, which took an 11% stake in the company. GM said it would help the firm manufacture and develop its planned Badger pickup truck, jolting the Detroit-based automaker's shares 8% to $32 per share. Seems the road is big enough for more than one electric-car business.

Quit slacking off! Shares in office chat app Slack slumped 20% in after-market trading after the company reported revenue growth not matching the success of pandemic star Zoom. Revenue grew about 50%, in line with previous quarters, but far off from Zoom's phenomenal 355% surge. Investors fear Slack isn't benefiting as much as it should from a pandemic-prompted shift to remote work, especially as the company battles Microsoft for market share. Slackers are no doubt commiserating at the water cooler.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch. Mark your calendar for Sept. 15 at 10 a.m. pacific time. That's when Apple plans to livestream its annual product show. Apple-watchers expect a new generation of Apple Watches, the Series 6, as well as a new iPad Air to be on the menu. Meanwhile, Apple is countersuing Epic Games, maker of Fortnite, for circumventing its payment systems. Epic says the video game has lost 60% of its daily active users since Apple booted the game from its App Store.

Bin Laden's hard drive.


Kate Klonick is a speech expert; that is, she studies how social media companies enforce (often capricious) rules about what is permissible to say online. It might be surprising to learn then that Klonick—a St. John's University law professor who last year embedded with a content moderation team at Facebook—recently found herself running afoul of Twitter policy. In an op-ed piece for The Atlantic, she explains how a bad joke landed her, temporarily, in the penalty box. (She has since been reinstated.)

One morning last week, around 7:30, I woke up, rolled over in bed, and reached for my phone to check my email. With one eye open, I quickly scrolled through listserv messages, faculty notices, and some junk and then I saw something that made me sit up, open both eyes, and smile: a message with the subject line “Your Twitter account has been suspended.”


Want to understand why tech stocks are crashing? This one metric explains it all by Shawn Tully

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(Some of these stories require a subscription to access.Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


As a reporter, I have long bemoaned the iPhone's inability to record conversations. Apple declines to add the feature for security and privacy reasons—but also because recording a call without both parties' knowledge is illegal in certain places. (Looking at you, Montana.) Another iRritation: the iPhone's apparent inability to decline incoming calls from the lock screen; typically, only a "slide to answer" toggle appears there.

If this omission bothers you too, I've got good news. I've just learned that it is possible to decline inbound calls, though Apple hides the trick. Just double-click the power button on the side of your iPhone and you'll send any unwelcome solicitors forthrightly to voicemail

Eat mailbox, robocallers.

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