MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Good morning!
Today we’ll talk about the controversy around the new Disney live-action remake of Mulan.
NICK EICHER, HOST: That’s ahead on Culture Friday.
And then Megan Basham will be along to tell you about the film itself.
Plus Christian singer-songwriter Matthew West on the devastating loss that inspired one of his new songs.
BROWN: It’s Friday, September 11th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.
EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!
BROWN: Up next, news with Kent Covington.
KENT COVINGTON, NEWS ANCHOR: Trump clashes with reporters over book excerpt controversy » President Trump clashed with reporters at the White House Thursday over excerpts from a forthcoming book by journalist Bob Woodward.
KARL: Why did you lie to the American people and why should we trust what you have to say now?
TRUMP: That’s a terrible question and the phraseology. I didn’t lie. What I said was we have to be calm, we can’t be panicked.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl heard there, referring to excerpts published Wednesday.
CNN and the Washington Post reported the president called the coronavirus “deadly stuff” in February before it began sweeping through the United States even as he downplayed it in public.
Trump said he tried to avoid causing a frenzy and wanted to show confidence and strength.
His Democratic rival Joe Biden pounced on the report.
BIDEN: He knew how dangerous it was, and while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose!
President Trump fired back, saying Biden originally criticized his decision to restrict travel to China in January.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, weighed in on Wednesday, saying he does not believe the president misled the public. Fauci said he “he didn’t see any discrepancies” between what he discussed with him privately “and what [Trump] ultimately” told the public.
Court rules Trump can’t exclude people from district drawings » A panel of three federal judges on Thursday blocked an order from President Trump that would exclude people in the country illegally from the 2020 census count used to redraw congressional districts.
The federal judges in New York, in granting an injunction, said the order violated laws governing the census process.
The headcount is conducted every 10 years. It provides the data used for apportionment, determining how many seats in Congress each state receives.
The judges said that those in the country illegally qualify to be counted in the states they reside.
The Trump administration is likely to appeal the decision directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jobless claims hold steady » The number of Americans applying for jobless benefits remained stuck at just under 900,000 last week. WORLD’s Kristen Favin reports.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The latest figures released by the Labor Department Thursday coincide with other recent evidence that the job market’s improvement may be slowing after solid gains in the spring and summer.
The number of new unemployment claims remained at 884,000—unchanged from the week before.
Hiring has slowed since June, and a rising number of laid-off workers now say they regard their job loss as permanent. And the employment website Indeed.com reports that job postings have leveled off within the past month.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kristen Flavin.
Senate Democrats scuttle GOP relief bill » The latest jobless numbers arrived as Congress remained deadlocked on more economic relief.
Senate Democrats on Thursday scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package.
The $500 billion measure focused on school aid, jobless benefits, and help for small businesses. That maximized Republican support even as it alienated Democrats.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “completely inadequate.”
SCHUMER: It does not help renters keep a roof over their heads or American families put food on the table. It shortchanges healthcare and education.
Schumer said the Senate bill proved Republicans aren’t serious about addressing America’s economic problems. But Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s Democrats who are choosing not to act.
MCCONNELL: Democrats are all or piecemeal bills when they concern their own reelection, but when it comes to bipartisan aid for kids, jobs, and schools, Democrats say it’s either their entire wishlist, all of it, or nobody gets a dime.
The 52-47 vote fell well short of what was needed to overcome a filibuster and seems likely to end hopes for coronavirus relief before the November election.
California fire slams same region devastated by 2018 Camp Fire » In Northern California, stiff winds whipped a raging wildfire into a monster that incinerated houses and killed at least three people.
The Bear Fire also critically burned several people. And it has damaged or completely consumed hundreds, if not thousands, of homes and other buildings.
The fire is raging in the same region devastated nearly two years ago by the deadliest fire in state history. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters…
HONEA: Our community is unfortunately becoming accustomed to this. I certainly hoped after that after the Camp Fire that I wouldn’t be back up here talking to you about a wildland fire of this magnitude.
About 20,000 people were under evacuation orders or warnings in Butte and two other counties.
Another California fire raging along the Oregon border killed one person and consumed at least 150 homes.
Numerous wildfires are also burning in Oregon and Washington state.
Fire breaks out at Beirut port » Meantime in Beirut, smoke billowed in Lebanon’s capital again on Thursday a little more than a month after a historic explosion at the port.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF SIREN]
Firefighters and ambulances rushed to the scene, and army helicopters helped fight the blaze.
The Lebanese army said the fire erupted at a warehouse storing oil and tires in the duty-free zone, but the cause remained unclear. The city is still reeling after nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded on Aug. 4th, killing nearly 200 people and wounding thousands.
I’m Kent Covington.
Straight ahead: the controversy over Disney’s work with Chinese propaganda agencies.
Plus, Matthew West on writing through pain.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MYRNA BROWN: It’s Friday the 11th of September, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: Culture Friday.
AUDIO: I feel like it’s important to have accurate representation of the stories for the community that’s gonna watch it, otherwise it’s gonna create a false sense of illusion in the world. We have to paint a picture accurately and that’s exactly what we did in this movie in every aspect, so I’m very proud of what we did.
That’s one of the actors in the Disney live action remake of Mulan talking about the efforts the studio made to have the film shot in China.
What he’s not talking about are the compromises Disney made with the Chinese government to have the film shot.
The credits following Mulan read: Special thanks to the Chinese Communist Party Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Committee.
Well, according to the United Nations: The government has detained more than 1 million Chinese Uighur Muslims and is holding them in internment camps in the Xinjiang region.
BROWN: The Chinese American actress who plays the lead role is a controversial figure as well. During China’s crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, the actress expressed support for the crackdown.
All this has sparked a movement to boycott the film.
EICHER: Here’s Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong.
WONG: Entering Chinese market might be one of the big reasons for them to choose Mulan, especially how business interests override the principle of human rights.
John Stonestreet joins us for Culture Friday. John is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
BROWN: John, good morning.
JOHN STONESTREET, HOST: Good morning!
EICHER: John I’m old enough to remember when Disney and Hollywood stars were talking about boycotting movie-making in Georgia because of abortion laws there.
STONESTREET: Yeah, Disney has never gotten over its deep-seated allegiance to China—not since they lost an awful lot of money when they made a film about, they gave a positive portrayal of the Dali Lama.
This is a travesty. What’s happening to the Muslim Uighur population, specifically in the Xinjiang province, fits the UN’s definition of genocide. It fits it on a number of levels—the attempt to essentially curb a population, a people group through imprisonment, through torture. We have reports there of attempts to control fertility through forced abortions, forced sterilizations, forced birth control methods, invasive birth control methods as well. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. And the things is is clearly China feels like it can do almost anything that it wants and get away with it. Thankfully we finally have a couple corporations—Apple being one of them—that have pulled much of their production out of China. We also have India, the country of India, but that probably has more to do with geopolitical conflicts than standing on principle. Disney isn’t one of them. The money signs are just too big. This is a tragic story.
But I don’t believe in boycotts, Nick. I don’t. But I’m boycotting this one. Our family won’t be seeing it.
BROWN: I can’t help but notice how often the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred and the people consuming these films find themselves in the middle of this haze.
With the passing away of Chadwick Boseman, I was thinking about the superhero film, Black Panther back in 20-18, people dressed like characters from the movie and I read countless social media posts of fans longing for the fictitious “Wakanda.” We see this in other superhero movies, too, Spiderman, Iron Man. We see it in other fictional realms like Star Wars.
And I can see young girls wanting to be Mulan.
How do we keep a good balance between fictional worlds and the real world?
STONESTREET: Well, Myrna, I’m probably not the right one to ask. On a recent road trip with my family, my three-year-old told everyone that he met that he was Spiderman.
So I may not be the right one to give any advice on this one. I think one of the things, though, that is incredibly troubling is in particular the portrayal of young women. I’m a big fan of Chadwick Boseman, by the way. What a tragic loss. What an incredible character he played. The fact that he showed the sort of strength that he did fighting cancer and no one knew, and, really, by all indications was poised to be one of the next great male leads in an elite category. At least as far as I can tell. That was just really tragic. And the fact that so many African American children saw this as someone to identify with, I thought, was an extremely redemptive and powerful thing, particularly how that story—Black Panther—was written. And I think that’s a way in which fiction can serve us in reality.
On the other hand, what we have is female leads that are great not because they’re women but because they’re acting like men. They’re female leads because they are basically strong like a man, not strong like a woman. I have obviously a vested interest in this with three daughters, but I’m a big fan of the book Seven Women by Eric Metaxas. And the preface to that book in particular has a stunning observation in which he says I’m featuring these seven women because they’re great. But they’re not great in spite of being women or because they acted like men. Their greatness came through being women. But that’s being downplayed. That’s being replaced by some sort of tough guy, and that’s not fiction serving reality.
EICHER: I want to ask you about this story out of Washington, involving the federal government. We reported this story this week that President Trump ordered an end to diversity training he deems divisive, propagandistic, and anti-American. Specifically, he wants to cut off money for any training on “critical race theory,” or “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country. I’m reading from a cease-and-desist letter that went out from the Office of Management and Budget.
We’ve heard about these White Fragility lectures by Robin D’Angelo that corporations spend huge sums of money on, so evidently the federal government is doing the same. It’s going to take a long time to unwind all this—you understand how government operates and how big it is—but it’s interesting that there’s pushback here.
BROWN: But you know, I wonder about that. I want to disagree a little bit. My husband works at a huge corporation. I used to work at a big media company and we felt all of this politically correct pressure.
But it just seems like “critical race theory”—despite the bit of pushback against it that Nick mentions—is actually going to grow in influence.
May I just say, I find critical race theory and everything related to it is all just terribly divisive and it seems to have taken over the culture in a very negative way.
So I wonder what’s the best way for Christians who want to stand for an end to ethnic tension, to do that in an environment like this. How do we do it?
STONESTREET: Well, I think both of you have some really important points. First of all, Critical Race Theory is all about power dynamics and it solves a power dynamic or a perceived power dynamic by offering another power dynamic. That’s what the whole theory is based on. And so when powerful people, then, decide not to promote it, that’s a net win, not a net loss because it is an unfortunate and an inaccurate view of the human person.
At the same time, I agree that it’s going to grow. I mean, certainly the president isn’t going to be able to counter what’s happening across all the pre-political institutions where this form of political correctness—and I’m not even sure I’d put it in that category as much as I’d just put it in this dominant neo-Marxist sort of way of seeing the world—has just basically gone from disputed to unquestioned overnight. In other words, there is a deep desire from corporate America and a deep desire in academic institutions—not to mention media companies—I mean, at this particular point, I hate the word virtue signal, but it’s very much that. It’s very much a need to show here’s what we’re doing.
I’ll tell you, the only way that I can see that we’re going to be able to address this is to show the limits of critical theory in all of its forms and I think it’s, by the way, the wrong move to limit critical theory to critical race theory. That’s its expression right now, but I can’t help but think there’s going to be an awful lot of buyers remorse of critical theory in general when it goes from critical race theory to critical queer theory tomorrow.
At the same time, we’re not going to succeed here, and I think the church is—maybe some of us in the church are doing this—spending all of our time and energy critiquing critical race theory without taking seriously the kind of racial oppression and the racial injustices and even systemic realities that do actually exist. Right now, too many are being caught up in this conversation as if anybody who talks about systemic injustice has bought into critical theory. And that’s not true. Those two things are independent notions and independent ideas. And we can both seek to address both personal and structural injustices without going down the path of critical theory, that the whole world should be divided into good guys and bad guys based on power dynamics. But we’re not going to be able to critique that unless we can actually deal with the sort of reconciliation that needs to happen across community lines.
And, by the way, I think especially across socio-economic lines, I think those lines, perhaps are even more stark these days than the ethnic ones.
EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, thanks!
MYRNA BROWN: Today is Friday, September 11th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.
NICK EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Now, some of you may have already decided along with John Stonestreet that your family isn’t going to watch Mulan. Others may still want more information.
Megan Basham has a review that may help you decide for yourself.
MEGAN BASHAM, REVIEWER: It would be impossible to adapt the ancient folk tale of Hua Mulan without a requisite amount of girl power. But Disney’s stunning live-action retelling of the story of a woman who disguises herself as a man to fight for king and country avoids making it a modern feminist allegory.
Unlike in the 1998 animated version, Mulan joins the army not only to spare her father, but because she has certain extraordinary martial gifts.
CLIP: Your chi is strong Mulan. But chi is for warriors not daughters. Soon, you’ll be a young woman and it is time for you to hide your gift away. To silence its voice. I say this to protect you. That is my job.
These gifts are more balletic than brute in nature. And the superpower spirit of them suggests they’re unique to her rather than widely achievable by her sex. Even better, at no point does the film denigrate Mulan’s more traditionally feminine sister.
As we might expect given the setting, references to Eastern mystic beliefs abound. This includes village shrines and praying to ancestors and ancestral spirits. But these are more window-dressing than worldview. The film refreshes the tired theme of self-empowerment with a more worthwhile message: The inherent good of telling the truth.
Mulan longs to unleash her chi—an inner energy that sounds suspiciously similar to the force in Star Wars.
CLIP: The chi pervades the universe and all living things. We are all born with it. But only the most true will connect deeply to his chi and become a great warrior.
She can’t do that, though, until she’s honest about who she is.
CLIP: Your deceit weakens you. It poisons your chi.
By honest, we’re not talking about postmodern, I-define-my-own-identity, “This Is Me,” self worship, but something truly counter-cultural. Mulan realizes if she wants to lead, she first must confess to her commander and comrades that she’s a female. Her journey is then contrasted against that of another woman with unusual abilities who rationalizes deceit because she’s been victimized by men.
CLIP: I understand. I was a girl like you when people turned on me. You don’t think I longed for a noble path. I’ve lived the life of exile. No country, no village, no family. We are the same. We’re not. We are. The more power I showed, the more I was quashed, just like you.
Mulan stands as a striking rebuke to justifying wrongdoing by crying victimization. Though her parents have hurt her, she insists on showing them respect.
CLIP: I left home under cover of darkness and betrayed my family’s trust. I made choices I knew would risk their dishonor. Since then I have pledged an oath to be loyal, brave, and true. In order to fulfill this oath, I must return home and make amends to my family.
If that doesn’t make families willing to pony up the $30 to watch at home, the eye-popping packaging this traditional tale of adventure and honor comes wrapped in certainly will.
While all of Disney’s recent remakes have been visual treats, none so far rival Mulan. The stunning natural vistas and jaw-dropping PG-13 action sequences make this a film all ages are likely to cheer.
But as we’ve already mentioned, Disney could do with some of its heroine’s integrity. Those gorgeous panoramic shots of the glittering Imperial City cast a dark shadow. To gain access to the Xinjiang Province where the scenes were filmed, Mulan’s production team worked with government organizations that have been instrumental in China’s campaign to sterilize Uighur Muslims and put them in concentration camps. The film expresses gratitude to these groups during the closing credits.
To quote the Washington Post’s stark reporting, Disney, “worked with regions where genocide is occurring, and thanked government departments that are helping to carry it out.”
In an ironic twist, the moral compromises the studio made for Mulan now look like they aren’t likely to earn them the big bucks in China that they’d hoped. According to Reuters, because of controversial media coverage, Chinese authorities have barred news outlets in the country from covering the film.
In recent months, the studio has edited some decades-old films and declined to add others to its streaming platform because of their inclusion of ethnic stereotypes. By partnering with organizations participating in genocide, what they have done with Mulan goes far beyond insensitivity. It will be interesting to see if, some years from now, it, too, suddenly disappears from Disney’s shelf.
I’m Megan Basham.
MYRNA BROWN: Coming Next on The World And Everything In It: Suicide Awareness. On average, there are 132 suicides every day in the United States. September is National Suicide Prevention Month and I talked to an award-winning singer/songwriter who’s using his music to bring attention to this issue.
MYRNA BROWN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Matthew West brings rhyme and rhythm to the hard places in life.
SONG [FORGIVENESS]: It’s the hardest thing to give away and the last thing on your mind today…
In 2012 the singer/songwriter wrote the song “Forgiveness,” inspired by a grieving mother and the drunk driver who took her daughter’s life.
SONG [UNPLANNED]: I’m looking at a masterpiece. I’m looking at a work of art..
Seven years later, producers asked West to pen a song for the 2019 anti-abortion film, Unplanned. West was undaunted. Then in February of 2020, he released his eighth album and the song he hoped he’d never have to write.
WEST: Without question. I mean, because it deals with the topic that I wish we didn’t even have to deal with or that my kids would never know about.
West is the father of two daughters. In the fall of 2018, his eldest, Luella, was starting sixth grade.
WEST: This song hit a little too close to home because it’s inspired by a young boy who was my oldest daughter’s classmate and the first week of sixth grade, he took his own life. I’ll repeat that…the first week of sixth grade.
West says the suicide was understandably devastating to the young boy’s family, his classmates, and the entire community of Brentwood, just outside Nashville. As parents grappled with how to talk to their grieving and confused children, West offered his thoughts in the song “Too Young, Too Soon.”
WEST: Like it talks about cliques, to be kind, choose love, reach out your hand, don’t point, don’t laugh. Life’s too short for that. And man, even when you’re an adult, it’s all cliques and people being that way toward each other. We’re all guilty of that sometimes. And it’s not like Sam was being bullied, that’s not necessarily the cause of his suicide, but it just felt like it needed to be said in the context of the song.
He also shared his memories through the music.
SONG [TOO YOUNG, TOO SOON]: Hey there, Sam, that sure was some smile on your face. Standing on the stage in the 5th grade Christmas play. You were everybody’s friend and nobody’s enemy. But there were storm clouds deep inside you. Nobody else could see what was really going on. Now we can’t believe you’re gone.
WEST: I’m talking about him in the Christmas play. And as a dad, I’m always that annoying dad that is doing goofy things in the audience to try to get my daughter’s attention before the play starts. They’re standing up there, dressed up, getting ready to sing the Christmas carols. And I was like waving and being goofy and my daughter wouldn’t give me the time of day. But this kid, this kid had this big smile on his face. And he looked right at me and started waving back and forth to me. And it was just this funny moment.
A fleeting moment West says has changed a community’s perspective.
WEST: Just to say like man, who’s around you right now that could use a friend? You know. And maybe for all of us to look at the world a little differently like that.
SONG: Who needs a friend, reach out your hand. Don’t point, don’t laugh, life’s too short for that. Hearts break in two for the too young, too soon.
NICK EICHER: Today our country is marking a somber anniversary. Nineteen years ago today, terrorists flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Passengers on another flight overpowered a fourth set of attackers and brought their plane down in a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives that day. Many more suffered injuries.
Today we remember them and the brave first responders who rushed to the scenes, many of whom lost their lives as well.
MYRNA BROWN: The World and Everything in It comes to you from WORLD Radio.
We’ll close today with a portion of Psalm 27, read during the Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the National Cathedral in Washington on September 14th, 2001.
PASTOR: Hear these words of comfort and confidence, from the Psalmist, David. Taken from Psalm 27.
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me, to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my foes. They shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war arise up against me, yet I will be confident.
13 I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait I say on the LORD.
May the Lord bless the reading of His word. Amen.