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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The remake of “Mulan” struck all the right chords to be a hit in the key Chinese market. Disney cast beloved actor Liu Yifei as Mulan and removed a dragon sidekick popular in the animated original to cater to Chinese tastes.

Still, the movie drew decidedly mixed reviews after its coronavirus-delayed release in China last week, with thousands panning it online.

The movie was rated 4.9 out of 10 by more than 165,000 people on Douban, a leading website for film, book and music ratings. Negative comments and jokes about the film outnumbered positive reactions on social media.

“Mulan” has earned an estimated $23.2 million since its opening last week, according to ticketing platform Maoyan. It scored a higher 7.5 out of 10 on Maoyan, but also with mixed reviews.

“Poor artistic level, misunderstanding of Chinese culture lead to the film’s failure in China,” the state-run Global Times newspaper tweeted.

Chinese critics, both at home and abroad, said they were disappointed with the film’s inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of Chinese history and the main character, infused with nationalist tropes.

Others were not as bothered.

“It’s fine that different screenwriters make up different stories,” Zhang Qin, a military veteran, said after watching the film in Beijing last week. “They can play with imagination and it’s a good thing.”

IT engineer Zhang Fan also had positive things to say about the film. “What touched me is the humanity,” he said.

The remake of Disney’s popular 1998 animation is based on the ancient tale of Hua Mulan, a young woman who takes her father’s place in the army by dressing as a man.

The original tale, “The Ballad of Mulan,” has gone through multiple renditions. Themes such as filial piety and being loyal to the central government have remained as core tenets, which some find outdated and problematic.

“It’s a very touchy subject in modern China because a lot of people find (filial piety) very constraining, including me,” said Xiran Jay Zhao, the Chinese Canadian author of an upcoming book about the only female emperor in China. “It’s like a moral shackle for people.”

She also thinks Disney missed the opportunity to reshape the tale along feminist lines.

“Even after achieving this great warrior stand, that she had to go home and then devote herself to her family and then find a husband,” Zhao said. “Of all the things in the original Ballad, that’s what you choose to keep?”

Critics also pointed out inaccurate details such as the use of a southern-style house when Mulan is likely from the north. Some called the makeup and costumes ugly and inauthentic.

Jeannette Ng, a Chinese fantasy writer based in the UK, said the film perpetuates a narrative of China’s majority Han people that assimilates and excludes minorities including ethnic Mongolians, Tibetans and Uighurs.

“The mainland Chinese people aren’t the mainland Chinese viewers from 20 years ago,” she said of the lukewarm response. “The culture has moved on.”

Her comments mirror the latest in a series of controversies that have hit the film outside mainland China.

The movie’s final credits thank propaganda departments and a public security bureau in Xinjiang, where part of it was filmed.

China has come under widespread criticism for detaining Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as part of a campaign to snuff out sometimes-violent struggle against Chinese rule.

Earlier, a boycott movement was sparked after Liu, the actor who portrays Mulan, publicly supported Hong Kong police as they battled pro-democracy protesters last year.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian defended Liu last week, calling her a “Mulan of the modern times.”

Disney did not reply to a request for comment.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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Black Appalachians Find Hope in National Reckoning on Race

By PIPER HUDSPETH BLACKBURN, Associated Press/Report for America

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Dayjha Hogg has known racism her entire life, but until recently she thought she and her family had to face it on their own.

Hogg, 19, lives in Whitesburg, Kentucky, a town of 2,000 people in the heart of Appalachia. She is biracial — born to a Black father and a white mother — and can recall times when she and her brothers were targets of racial slurs, suspicious glances and rude comments.

But in the wake of this year’s nationwide protests against institutional racism — sparked by George Floyd’s killing in Minnesota — Black Appalachians have found an opportunity for their history and struggles to be recognized more widely. Though the national reckoning on racism has raised awareness about the issue for many white Americans, that it is also echoing in the hills of Appalachia is particularly striking in a region that isn’t known for its diversity.

Hogg saw how the message of the protests — which were also fueled by the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky — was resonating when she organized a rally in her home county of Letcher, where 2% of the population of about 20,000 is Black. She thought only a few people would show up, but roughly 200 did, most of them white.

“This is my home,” Hogg said. “All my friends and all these young people, they’re ready to fight.”

The experience helped transform Hogg’s own idea of her community in eastern Kentucky.

Though the majority of Black Kentuckians live in the metropolitan areas of Louisville and Lexington, many have resided in the mountains in the east for generations. However, pervasive stereotypes of Appalachia — that its residents are predominantly white, poor and, at best, ignorant about race relations, at worst, racist — ignore the presence of Black people in the region and the history of multiracial coalitions that marched for racial justice and worker’s rights there, notes University of Tennessee at Knoxville sociologist Enkeshi El-Amin.

“Invisibility is a major part of the experience of Black folks in Appalachia,” said El-Amin, who also co-hosts the Black in Appalachia podcast. “You don’t think of a movement like Black Lives Matter of being something that is vibrant in a region like this, right? Because you don’t think of Black people when you think of this region.”

But many are working to increase the visibility of Black people in the region — and the demographics are changing as well: Racial minorities made up nearly half of Appalachia's population growth in the past two decades.

This year, a Black lawmaker from Louisville nearly pulled off an upset in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate with a campaign built around the slogan, “From the hood to the holler.” State Rep. Charles Booker bet his campaign on the idea that concern about injustices done to Black Americans by police mattered to people everywhere, and he nearly defeated a heavily bankrolled opponent.

Mekyah Davis, a 24-year-old who grew up not far from the Kentucky border in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, has also been trying to change perceptions about Appalachia and the Black community's place in it. At the STAY Project, a multiracial youth coalition, he organizes programs for young Black Appalachians that educate them about their history and encourage more community involvement.

Davis long felt his blackness made him an outsider in Appalachia, and that he had no choice but to leave. If economic prospects were already bleak, racism seemed to exacerbate those challenges.

But working with STAY has given him hope about his future in his hometown.

“It made me realize that I don’t have to make this exodus from the region to be successful, to thrive,” he said. “I never would have thought about identifying as Appalachian before that.”

This summer’s protests have him feeling optimistic about the work he has been doing, trying to alleviate the impact of racism on Black people and confronting the prejudices he sees in everyday interactions.

The protests also made him feel more connected to the larger Black experience in the U.S., despite the different challenges faced by urban and rural communities.

“If you’re Black in America, you’re Black in America,” he said. “It may not be overt police brutality caught on camera, sometimes it’s a lot more covert, a lot more malicious.”

In Kentucky, Booker is trying to show people of different racial backgrounds that they're connected, too. His Senate campaign particularly focused on economic inequality, in a state rife with poverty.

Out of the 80 Appalachian counties designated as “distressed” by the Appalachian Regional Commission in 2019, nearly half are located in Kentucky.

Since his loss, he’s founded an organization called “Hood to the Holler” to continue discussing this issue as well as democratic participation and climate change.

While some Appalachians — like Americans elsewhere — have rejected the ongoing protests as a threat to their way of life and interest has waned for others, Hogg is still hopeful for the future. And though she's disappointed that no officers were charged in the killing of Breonna Taylor, she doesn't see it as a reason to give up. Some close friends and family haven’t been as supportive as predicted, but she’s inspired by the encouragement she’s received, especially from Whitesburg artists who have used their work to spread awareness.

"Don’t get me wrong, there are people that need to change,” Hogg said. “I'm hopeful that we'll change a few more hearts.”

___

Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tags: Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia

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