If McDonald’s had its way, it would have probably gone ahead and selected a new Spice Girl this month: China Spice. At least that’s the impression many are getting after seeing the fast-food giant’s commercials highlighting a promotional tie-in with Disney’s Mulan. Whereas the animated feature—which pulled in $54.2 million in its first two weeks—is for the most part drawing raves from Asian Americans for its cultural sensitivity and historical accuracy, the McDonald’s spots are generating charges of ethnic stereotyping. Among other things, the spots feature a headband-wearing Ronald McDonald karate-chopping the company’s logo, and patronizing, isn’t-that-cute jokes about such Asian customs as sitting on the floor to eat. Meanwhile, Chicken McNugget containers are emblazoned with the cringe-worthy puns “Run, don’t wok…” and “McNuggets are Chinamite!” Says Paul Leung, a Chinese-American student at Cornell University who started an E-mail protest campaign, “You don’t even have to be Chinese to be offended.”
Jeff Yang, publisher and founding editor of the Asian-American publication A. Magazine, calls the campaign “the equivalent of a drive-by mooning. Here is such a clear contrast between the clearly thoughtful efforts of Disney and the far more cartoonish and offensive caricatures in the promotional campaign.” Such rumblings come as a shock to McDonald’s and Disney. “I haven’t found anybody who found [the campaign] offensive,” says Disney publicist Terry Curtin. McDonald’s spokesman Palmer Moody agrees, saying “Obviously, the goal was to be fun as well as relevant to U.S. pop culture.” Moody adds that before it was launched, the campaign was screened and approved by the company’s Asian-American employee network, as well as by ethnic focus groups.
Luckily for the burger maker, the Mulan promotion ends July 2. And it’ll be awfully hard to offend the fans of its next summer movie tie-in: Armageddon.