[The following story contains spoilers from Disney’s live-action version of Mulan.]
Ming-Na Wen has revealed how her surprise cameo in Disney’s live-action version of Mulan almost didn’t happen, the character she was originally supposed to play and where she falls in the ongoing debate over the animated Mulan’s memorable haircutting scene.
In an interview with The New York Times, the Agents of SHIELD actress shared that fans’ social media campaigns were behind her unexpected appearance in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan. “It all started with the fans tweeting about it, saying, ‘You have to be a part of it!'” Wen explained. “I asked my manager and my agent if that would be a possibility because I thought that would be kind of fun.”
The iconic voice behind Disney’s animated Mulan said she eventually met with producer Jason Reed who “loved the idea.” Unfortunately, their original plan for her appearance created “a logistical nightmare” scheduling-wise with her work on the final season of SHIELD. The Mulan team had written Wen into the potential part of the mother-in-law who would appear during the movie’s matchmaker sequence. But to do the role, Wen would have had to travel to New Zealand and stay there for a month.
“The producers of Agents of SHIELD just threw up their hands: ‘We can’t lose you for a month!'” Wen said. “I totally understood, and I’m always very Zen about this stuff. I said, ‘Look, if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. We all tried, and it’s too bad.'”
Wen then said she had let the idea go, but Mulan producer Jason Reed and director Niki Caro hadn’t, as the two reached back out sometime later with a new idea for a cameo. Their pitch was that Wen would appear as the “Esteemed Guest” who introduces Mulan to the emperor in a celebration scene towards the film’s end. Unlike the last offer, this one would only require her to be on set for a week.
“I thought that was very appropriate and just wonderful, a little Easter egg where I could pass the baton,” Wen said of her brief appearance in the live-action film.
In the same interview, Wen also weighed in on the live-action adaptation’s decision to leave out the famous haircutting sequence from the 1998 animated film. Since the animated film’s release, the scene has been criticized by some for historical inaccuracy but championed by others as one example of the film’s unintentional LGBTQ representation.
“I’m sure [Liu] Yifei is going to get incredible accolades as the live-action Mulan, but I hope everyone will still have a little place in their hearts for the animated Mulan,” Wen said. “I mean, at least she cut her hair!”
According to Wen, she received a few complaints from upset mothers claiming their daughters had cut their hair after seeing the film, to which she succinctly responded, “It will grow back.” Wen went on to talk about the impact of young people sharing their own stories of Mulan’s significance to them thanks in part to that haircutting scene.
“I was blown away when these beautiful young women and boys from the LGBTQ community would come up to me crying because Mulan was a representation for them, and they latched on to the images of her transforming herself into a boy,” Wen said. “There was so much about the film that was an extra plus like that.”