How #MeToo Changed Disney's Live-Action Mulan
And what happened to a beloved character.
Disney's live-action remake of 1998's animated classic Mulan has fans excited about one of the studio's most popular films, but when fans found out that Li Shang, one of the central characters in the original, wouldn't be making an appearance in the new film, they weren't happy. According to SlashFilm's Hoai-Tran Bui, who spoke with producer Jason Reed, the decision to remove Shang had to do with the #MeToo movement.
In the 1998 animated version, Shang is Mulan's love interest — but he's also her commander. That dynamic didn't sit well, Reed explained, and the team behind this year's release decided to take different aspects of Shang's character and split him into two different people.
The leadership that Shang provided was given to Donnie Yen's character, Commander Tung. Another character, Honghui, serves as Mulan's friend, though Bui doesn't offer additional information about the friendship and how it relates to Shang's original role.
"Particularly in the time of the #MeToo movement, having a commanding officer that is also the sexual love interest was very uncomfortable and we didn’t think it was appropriate," Reed told Bui. "And we thought that in a lot of ways that it was sort of justifying behavior of we’re doing everything we can to get out of our industry. So we split Li Shang into two characters. One became Commander Tung (Donnie Yen) who serves as her surrogate father and mentor in the course movie. The other is [Chen] Honghui, who is her equal in the squad."
Reed went on to acknowledge the online backlash that ensued after the news of Shang's removal. He noted that Shang has become an important part of the LGBTQ community. Many fans see his camaraderie and subsequent romance with Mulan, both as soldier Ping and later as a non-disguised Mulan, as an indication of his bisexuality.
"Li Shang in the movie, he became sort of an LGBTQ icon," Reed acknowledged. "So there a little backlash online when we weren’t casting a character named Li Shang. I was actually a little surprised but it made sense without full understanding of what we were doing in the story."
He adds that the new relationship can be seen as much more sophisticated, which viewers should notice when they see the movie.
"I think we removed the icky-ness of the power differential," Reed finished.
Still, fans will have to wait and see what Disney does with the new characters and how it handles Mulan's romance.
"There wasn't anything sexual or romantic between them until the very end where MULAN asked HIM to stay for dinner," a viewer tweeted in reaction to the statement that the power dynamic was why Shang was removed. "Second of