Arts and Features Writer
Shang-Chi’s record breaking debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe advances representation for the AAPI community from a large studio and brings hope for the Hollywood industry as a whole.
“The media exposure has been a long time coming and it’s nice to finally be represented and to see kids play with action figures and read comics about people that look like they do. I always wanted more of that for myself as a kid but people who looked like me in the media were few and far between,” said Adam Wan, the public relations officer for UNCA’s Asian Student Association.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings premiered in theaters on Sept. 3. as Marvel’s first film exclusively shown in theaters since Spiderman: Far From Home in 2019. The film was met with overwhelming positive reviews from critics and viewers alike. It featured Shang-Chi, a superhero first introduced in 1973, spearheading the beginning of phase four in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The movie stands with support both critically and financially as it takes the number one spot at box offices for the third week in a row, initially leading with an earning of $71.4 million in its debut weekend.
As the second film in the MCU to feature a racial minority as the lead since Black Panther and the first in the franchise that is Asian led, fans grew excited at the prospect of more diverse heroes on the big screens.
“I think it’s about time for a studio like Marvel to utilize its resources and time to work with Asian casts to cover an Asian superhero,” Wan said.
A study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative revealed that in 2019, only 7.2% of films had Asian characters with speaking roles. From an industry perspective, the number dwindles further, with only 3.3 percent of directors in 2019 being part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community across the 1,300 films made in that year.
“Audiences are becoming familiar with stories that the industry didn’t make room for before, whether it’s a heartfelt family story like The Farewell or a big blockbuster like Shang Chi. The success of these films refutes the narrative that they are not marketable and that’s a big factor in whether or not something gets made,” Adjunct Lecturer Joanne O’Sullivan said.
In an interview with CNN, Director Destin Daniel Crettin expressed his reservations on his experience bringing the film to life. He touched on the differences in personality and culture of the different Asian and Asian-American cast members he picked and the importance of communicating the same diversity on screen.
He also spoke on the impact he hopes the movie will have on the new generation of AAPI children, and how as a kid he wished he could have had a role model like Shang-Chi that he could look up to.
“I really hope that in addition to expanding representation on the screen, directing, screenwriting, producing and other important roles in the industry will become more inclusive. The whole system of how a movie gets made now really isn’t working. It needs to be reinvented with more equitable power structures,” O’Sullivan said.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings isn’t the first of its kind. Following releases such as Crazy Rich Asians and the reboot of Mulan that also feature an all-asian cast, the film seems to be the newest in a line of expression from a community breaking out of its formal bonds.
“I think what they are doing is okay now. By far, Crazy Rich Asians was probably the best representation, and Shang-chi is at that level. If Hollywood keeps doing films like Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi, I think it will continue to adapt to include more representation in the industry,” said Alex Ear, the secretary of UNCA’s ASIA club .
Even with the success that Shang-Chi brings, it is crucial to recognize the conversation about diversity is still ongoing. As more movies begin to reshape and push the boundaries of what used to be the standard in Hollywood, viewers say they are beginning to use their voice to advocate for that continued trek into more variety on screen.
“I’d like to see more mixed characters and to reiterate, characters of mixed heritage and descent, as these are truly a demographic that I never see personally represented and feel like it would make more people feel that they are being represented and included in the conversation.” Wan said.
Simu Liu cemented Shang-Chi’s future in the MCU by signing a contract with Marvel to continue playing the titular character. As the hero continues to grow on his own journey in the ever-expanding universe that is the MCU, he will continue to foster a new generation of Marvel fans along with him. Shang-Chi will serve as a symbol for representation and hope for the AAPI community everywhere.
“I really do think this is the right step towards growing representation in Hollywood as a whole.” Ear said.