Fans are already talking up Disney's latest live-action adaptation, Mulan, but not all of it is good: Many are angered the studio has erased a rare depiction of bisexuality in a Disney classic.
In the original version, Mulan is the only daughter of a peasant family who disguises herself as a man to take her father's place in the army. As "Ping," Mulan catches the attention of her captain, Li Shang, and a romance blossoms.
The film was a hit, celebrated for its catchy soundtrack, quiet feminism, and subversive depiction of a man falling in love with someone he believes is another man. When the live-action adaptation was initially announced, it met with excitement and support. Fans assumed it would have the same spirit as the original. Instead, we learned it won't feature any of the original songs, nor will it include Li Shang. Mulan's love interest will be Commander Tung (Donnie Yen), a soldier with a bullying streak who only falls for her once it's revealed she's a woman.
Replacing Li Shang, and in the process erasing the bisexual romance, is the wrong move. And fans aren't afraid to say it.
His introduction did more than give the title character a romantic interest—it gave many our first glimpse of a queer character. An unintentional one, yes, but still an important representation. Asian characters are still rare in American film. It's even rarer to see an Asian man as a romantic lead, let alone one so nuanced. Li Shang normalized queer identity in a way that's even more important today than it was in 1998.
LGBT characters are seeping into Disney storytelling, but always with a wink and a nod—from Frozen's gay innkeeper Oaken to the blink-and-you'll miss it depiction of Lefou in the live-action Beauty and the Beast.
Li Shang could have represented Disney's committment to queer representation in its films. Instead we're treated to yet another example of bi erasure in film.