Queer Coded: Shang (Disney's "Mulan")

Tuesday, I said I had a lot of questions about the live-action version of Mulan that’s coming to theaters. One of my questions relates to characterization. Specifically how sexuality will be dealt with. Why? Because Shang’s supposed to fall in love with Mulan, right? But will Shang fall in love with Mulan as a girl or as a boy? To me, he begins to have feeling for her as Ping. Don’t agree? Listen to me for a second.

Disney thought they were being clever by playing up every other genderqueer and sexuality-exploratory aspect of the movie (having Harvey Fierstein, Takei, and B.D. Wong—gay actors—play Yao, the Great Ancestor and Shang, respectively, that whole “naked river bath” scene with Mulan, Ling, Chien-Po and Yao, showing Mulan getting feelings for Shang while still in her Victor/Victoria drag), while specifically playing down the exact moment Shang begins to have feelings for Mulan because it was the ’90s and they were probably afraid of what parents might say.

But to me, as an adult viewing the  movie again, it’s clear that Shang has to have started developing something for Mulan when she was Ping, especially after Ping saved Shang from getting killed. “But it’s intense friendship and gratefulness!” You might say. To that, I say, is it? Because the romance has to start somewhere in a romantic comedy, which is what Mulan is.

To go back to Victor/Victoria, King Marchand falls in love with Victoria as Victor. He even says he doesn’t care if she is a man. Since Disney is notorious for taking character and plot cues from big well-known musicals (The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables) , plays (The Lion King series and Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead), and other pop-culture stuff (Hercules and that general New York-ish, Seinfeld-style comedy the film goes to over and over again, not to mention nods to ’90s product placement like Gatorade and Air Jordans),  I have to think that Disney took cues from Victor/Victoria since it is the popular model for such a story. Because of that, I have to conclude Shang fell in love with Mulan as Ping.

If I’m right, will Disney decide that, since we’re in the age of more acceptance for LGBT individuals, they can go whole hog on this story and actually make Shang realize he’s in love with Ping and Mulan? Will Shang become Disney’s first bisexual prince? Technically, Disney’s already done the same thing to Mulan in Once Upon a Time—she became Disney’s first (outed) bisexual character. 

In any case, I’m here for a bisexual Shang. I hope Disney will be brave and take that leap. What do you think about a bisexual Shang? What did you think about a revisionist bisexual Mulan in Once Upon a Time? Give me your opinions below!

Screencap of Shang from Mulan