Let the record show that I had absolutely PLANNED on beginning this post with an exuberant happy-rant about how EXCELLENT the BBCAmerica Show Killing Eve is, the marvelousness of Sandra Oh, etc. It was gonna be great.
HOWEVER. I’m going to have to start instead with an ANGER RANT because yesterday I found out that in the upcoming live-action Mulan will not be including the character Li Shang.
THAT’S RIGHT. MAIN MALE CHARACTER AND LOVE INTEREST TO MULAN, LI SHANG.
Instead, Mulan’s love interest (cause, ya know, there’s gotta be SOMEONE) will be another soldier named Chen Honghui who, according to the casting call, is “full of himself, with a mean, bullying streak” who “quickly realizes that Mulan is his chief rival…but after learning that his rival is a woman, his intense feelings of rivalry turn into something very different, something like love.”
Okay so FIRST OF ALL this smells very much of bisexual erasure. Many have read Li Shang’s character as bi, noting that his attraction to Mulan begins when she is presenting as “Ping.” Bi erasure is something that happens frequently in media, and many people have written about it much more eloquently and knowledgeably than I could (here’s a start but there’s a lot of great writing on this) so Disney’s choice to simply eradicate the entire character is suspicious at the very least, especially considering all of the patting themselves on the back they did over the “exclusively gay moment” in Beauty and the Beast.
And now, let me make sure I’m getting this right in my fragile woman brain, but ah it really seems like this casting call is saying that Mulan ends up falling for a misogynistic dickwad who can only see women as romantic/sexual figures, not as legitimate rivals, which is a HARD NO FROM ME.
AND ABOUT THAT RIVALRY THING. Look, I am absolute trash for the whole “rivalry” romantic trope. But this portrayal is a complete misreading of why that trope actually works. It works as a trope because the push-pull of “wow I HATE this person–but oh I’m kind of attracted to them–but NO I HATE THEM–oh god now I’m thinking about them even MORE” is interesting and provides fun tension. Now, if that tension is there when Chen thinks Mulan is a man, that’s fun and interesting (aside from him being a bully tho??), but this casting call suggests that when Chen finds out Mulan is a man he trades in those feelings of rivalry for romantic feelings which is VERY MUCH NOT THE TROPE. [also, as my friend Taylor pointed out when we were ranting about this together: there’s a necessary mutual respect to that trope, because a lot of the frustration lives in acknowledging that the other person is on the same level–or perhaps a HIGHER level–than you.]
So anyway clearly all of that really grinds my gears. Now on to the very excellent books I finished this week!
We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy – Ta-Nehisi Coates
I told myself I was only allowed to geek out once about how amazing Coates’ sentences are, so here goes: WOW SERIOUSLY SO GOOD JESUS H. CHRIST HOW ARE THESE SENTENCES SO GOOD. Usually I listen to music while I read — and am VERY picky about what music “goes with” the book [Henry James and Morrissey just GO TOGETHER, I don’t have TIME to explain it] — but Coates’ writing is so perfectly calibrated that I didn’t want to throw off my reading of its melody without interference.
Not only are the sentences beautifully crafted, Coates has the skill of drawing the reader into a thought and then turning it upside down or inside down. There were so many times I [arrogantly] was sure I knew where he was going, only to have my own assumptions challenged.
This book is made up of eight of Coates’ essays, each written and published during a different year of the Obama administration, with an introduction to each one in which Coates goes into what his own life was like at the time, what he was trying to accomplish with the piece, and any lingering regrets over the way it turned out, as well as some hindsight perspective on the way things turned out (especially re:President 45). The construction of the book provides not only a fascinating arc of the Obama presidency, but a look into the career of Coates himself. The essays included are very journalistic, so if longform personal essay is more your jam, I would highly recommend his book Between the World and Me, or his memoir The Beautiful Struggle (I haven’t read the memoir yet, but I’m sure it’s fantastic).
I wish I had given myself more time with this book, so I could read an essay every couple of days and really let each one percolate before I moved onto the next, but alas I am foolish and the library due dates keep rolling along.
A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle
Friends, I have some VERY exciting news to share. My internet pal Hannah Evans will be joining me in a few weeks to shout with abandon about Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind In the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. We’ll cover such topics as whether the books should be considered a trilogy unto themselves or as part of the “Time Quintet”, our thoughts and feels about the recent movie, and most likely my undying literary crush on Calvin O’Keefe, along with much, much more. As with the Villette shout and countershout, the discussion will be spoiler-heavy, so feel free to read ahead (it will probably happen sometime in early May for the planners among you) (also follow Hannah on Twitter at @hannahschaef because she’s a lot of fun and very smart!)
I had purposefully not reread Wrinkle in the lead up to the movie because I didn’t want my expectations to be too specific. Returning to it after the movie was even more joyful this time around and reminded me that L’Engle was probably my introduction to the sci-fi genre, for which I am eternally grateful.
Also, there are some pretty bombshell-kitschy-great covers that have been given to her books over the years and I’m excited to share some of those as well.
Until next week, dear ones. Tesser on and always hold Li Shang in your hearts as the paragon of male excellence.