Marvel’s Shang-Chi Fights Against Anti-Asian Hate in North America

Shang-Chi
Shang-Chi. By hyakkinanami.

For the past two years, people’s lives have been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are reasonably frustrated with how the virus impacts their day-to-day life. However, this frustration has also resulted in increased discrimination against Asian people. Anti-Asian racism has increased following the COVID-19 pandemic and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings combats the rise in anti-Asian hate by including more realistic representations of South East and East Asian people and how its production and release as a Walt Disney Company film helps showcase positive depictions of Asian people on a worldwide scale.

Tweet by Donald Trump
Tweet by Trump where he calls COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus”.

Problematic Association Between East Asians and COVID-19

The first cases of infection from the COVID-19 virus were reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. This caused many to blame Chinese and Asian people for causing and spreading the COVID-19 virus, including then- U.S. President Donald Trump. The World Health Organization (WHO) has guidelines about naming diseases and used them to name the COVID-19 virus. These naming guidelines “advocate the avoidance of geographic locations or references to culture, population, or language that incites fear”.

Despite its official designated name, “President Donald Trump publicly used the terms “Chinese virus” or “China virus” for COVID-19 in various tweets between March 16–18, 2020”. Trump was president at the time and had a large Twitter following, making him one of the most influential people around the world. By disregarding the WHO’s given name for the virus and attaching a geographic location to it, Trump used his influence to perpetuate anti-Asian and xenophobic sentiments. Although Trump later said that COVID-19 is not any Asian person’s fault, it is unlikely that he truly changed his mind and likely made this statement to maintain peace. But the damage was done, “before Trump made these remarks in mid-March, racist acts and harassment targeting Asian Americans had already surged; they continued to increase through March and April following his statements”. The rise in anti-Asian hate sparked several social justice movements in person and on social media, using the hashtags #StopAsianHate, #StopAAPIHate (AAPI stands for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders), #StopAsianHateCrimes, and #HateIsAVirus to raise awareness and dismantle racism against Asians.

Importance of Representations

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel Studios film to be produced and released exclusively in theatres since the beginning of the pandemic. The film was released in September 2021 and “with its predominantly East Asian cast, story inspired by Chinese folklore, and martial arts action sequences, Shang-Chi is the latest sign that Hollywood is starting to listen to calls for more Asian representation on screen”. The film was well-received by critics and viewers, including Asian American people.

Prior to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, there were only a handful of Asian-led Hollywood films, including Always Be My Maybe (2019) and the widely successful Crazy Rich Asians (2018). However, there have been many harmful representations of Asian people throughout the history of Hollywood. For example, the role of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), in which a Japanese character was played by white actor Mickey Rooney and played heavily into racial and ethnic stereotypes. Another example is the role of Long Duk Dong in 16 Candles (1984), who is portrayed by Japanese-American actor Gette Watanabe, but also plays heavily into racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Perpetuating harmful stereotypes in media can alter how marginalized groups of people are perceived and treated in society. It is important to recognize the power that stereotypes and their depictions hold and how it is unethical and irresponsible to portray marginalized groups without research and a vision of authenticity. To create a film that accurately and positively represents cultures and races, it is essential to have people from those groups involved in the creative process, to ensure authenticity. Not only is the cast of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings largely East Asian, but the director of the film, Destin Daniel Cretton, is also Asian, specifically Asian American. The filmmakers, cast, and everyone else involved in the creative process uses the film to fight against the biased beliefs people hold against Asian people by incorporating positive and realistic Asian representation that does not perpetuate any preconceived notions.

Mr. Yunioshi (left) and Long Duk Dong (right)
Mr. Yunioshi (left) and Long Duk Dong (right).

Marvel’s Impact

Marvel Studios, owned by the Walt Disney Company, is one of the largest corporations in the world and one of the biggest companies in the entertainment industry. The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which refers to film adaptations of Marvel comics as produced by Marvel Studios, is worldwide. Avengers: Endgame (2019) was the highest-grossing film of all time for almost two years, and is currently the second-highest-grossing film of all time. By positively representing Asian people in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, especially during the rise in anti-Asian hate, Marvel takes a stance and fights against the misrepresentation of Asian people on a global scale. Not only do they provide an entertaining movie filled with everything people love about MCU films, but it also supports and uplifts Asian people during an extremely discriminatory time.

In the original Marvel comics, Shang-Chi’s nemesis and father is Dr. Fu Manchu. He is a character in novels and films from the early to the mid-20th century and “he clearly perpetuated and embodied ‘Yellow Peril’, the racist idea that Asian cultures threatened Western society”. In Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, he is replaced by Xu Wenwu, a character that combines the Mandarin and Fu Manchu without using harmful stereotypes like yellowface and yellow peril. Wenwu is given character development that gives emotional depth to him as a husband, father, warrior, and legend and is not meant to further the plot in relation to Western society, as occurs with other Asian characters in media. Wenwu is portrayed by Tony Leung, one of the most successful actors in Asia. The film forgoes the inclusion of a character that is known for its employment of racial stereotypes and depicts a nuanced character without antagonistic racial implications. The portrayal of common Asian norms, such as Shaun and Katy removing their shoes when entering the house, leads to awareness of other cultural norms, which is one step closer to respect and understanding.

Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Tony Leung as Xu Wenwu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021).

It is important to note that Shang-Chi and several other Asian-led Hollywood films were well received in North America and other countries but were criticized in China for the portrayal of Chinese culture and characters that may not perpetuate harmful stereotypes but do originate from them, such as Fu Manchu. However, for the Asian diaspora, the representation is heralded as revolutionary and a step in the right direction.

Therefore, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fights against the surge in discrimination against Asian American people. It does so by actively removing harmful stories and characters that negatively impact the portrayal and depiction of Asian people and how they are perceived. It also attempts to make reparations for how Asian people have been misrepresented in Hollywood, including Marvel’s own Dr. Strange (2016), in which a white actor portrayed The Ancient One, a Tibetan character. While anti-Asian hate is on the rise due to false connections made between East Asians and COVID-19, Marvel released a film that attempts to bring Asian people together and combat the negative associations made about them.

Works Cited

Browne, Kesewaa. “Why Asian Superhero Shang-Chi Could Truly Change the World.” BBC Culture, BBC, 06 September 2021, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20210906-why-asian-superhero-shang-chi-could-truly-change-the-world.

Grover, Angela R., et al. “Anti-Asian Hate Crime During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exploring the Reproduction of Inequality.” American Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 45, no. 4, 2020, pp. 647-667. Springer Link, ttps://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-020-09545-1.

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47 Comments

  1. Gilbert
    1

    It would have been far more interesting if the director had been Chinese (since dwelling into mythology) or at least had Chinese roots, instead of Japanese. And that the screenwriter had extensive knowledge of Chinese Martial Arts, instead of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (Japan again).

    I am sure there have been a lot of consultants around, but still

  2. Ty Crane
    1

    It was lovely and the main characters brought US and China together in their persons.

  3. Urijah
    1

    Marvel where always ahead of the game with regards to inclusivity.

    Back in the early 70s when I was started reading comics I remember Luke Cage, Black Goliath, Black Panther, Falcon etc

  4. Kamden
    1

    I took my friends kids to this movie (they are of Korean descent). the 8 year old boy turns to me, somewhere in the first 20 min of the movie, and says with a face full of smiles and wonderment “He’s just like me”. I am so happy for these kids nowadays, and marvel giving them heroes they can see themselves in and look up too.

  5. Liam
    1

    Marvel always hits it out of the ballpark when it comes to casting. Simu fits right into the rest of MCU, funny, down to earth and charismatic. Can’t wait to see him right next to other established Marvel stars.

  6. Kerr
    1

    Children of every culture need great role models.

  7. Leandro
    1

    Representation is so important. For the young ones growing up, a visual medium is so important where people of different ethnic backgrounds can be seen in a positive light beyond the stereotypical portrayals (which typically has been negative).

  8. Why now is my first question. It’s July 2022 the movie came out September 2021. So… not timely. Also THREE PEOPLE edited this? holy wow. I was gonna start a word document showing all the errors but there were so many I just gave up about 3 paragraphs in. There are so many quotes with no reference to what is being cited (and that’s not counting the what I call ‘sarcastiquotes’ which honestly I’m fine with). I think I saw three hanging quotes. There are redundant phrases that repeat themselves.

    Second of all it’s so shallow. I feel like there are like 234 copies of this article. This article has nothing to say except. “Asian people have been taking hits lately and it’s cool to see an Asian person getting a big public win for all of us” and yeah it is cool… but 10 months later… for this?

    Where’s the depth? Where’s the consideration on what specifically happened? Where’s the discussion on where we are now? Where’s the citation on how the Asian American community has responded to being represented? At least there could have been a lazy comparison to Black Panther. Simu has had some very vocal thoughts on both his previous project (Kim’s Convenience) and this current one. That’s easy dissection material right there. There’s also the fact that Trump isn’t president anymore. How has Biden’s response to AAPI hate been different and has the executive cultural change affected the social situation? I could have written this article in August 2021 that’s how little meat there actually is.

    Having read the author’s other article on racial representation in The Christmas Prince, one I actually disagree with maybe 60%, I’m even more disappointed. That article had a strong focus, tackled a subject outside of the basic description of the movie and backed up it’s ideas with specific knowledgeable references. This one by contrast has more interesting pictures than content.

    • Thanks for all the feedback! You gave a lot of helpful suggestions, despite the overall rude tone.

      There are a couple of things I’d like to clarify though. While I understand that sharing work with the world means it will take on a life of its own and be interpreted in ways unintended by the author, I wanted to share my thought process to offer some context.

      Firstly, I specifically mentioned Trump since he was president when the pandemic first hit and he had a large role in worsening the ongoing anti-Asian hate on a global scale. However, I agree that mentioning Biden’s stance on AAPI hate would’ve strengthened the argument.

      Secondly, while the article is not timely in terms of the release date, I think it is timely since many people are behaving as if the pandemic is over (along with the discrimination Asian people faced because of it) when that is simply not true. So this serves as a reminder that media plays an important role in how people are perceived and treated. Also, the next phase of the MCU was only announced a couple of days ago, so while not topical it is not untimely. However, I agree that this article would’ve been more impactful around the time the film was released and I will keep that in mind for future articles.

      Additionally, thanks for sharing your thoughts about my previous article as well. I’d love to read some of your work and have the chance to show you what kind, constructive feedback looks like.

  9. I feel as though it would have been interesting to compare the reception of this film by Asian-Americans and by people who actually were living in Asia (not just China, but also Japan, Korea, and so on). For instance, how widely-viewed and well-received was Shang-Chi in Japan? Korea? Vietnam? Additionally, I’d be interested to know if the film gave non-Asian people a more positive perspective on Asians overall, or just Asian-Americans.

  10. The movie does a good job portraying not only some important aspects of Chinese idiosyncrasy, but also the contemporary Chinese-American experience in the US. Now, some pressing questions arise from this article’s reflection and should be answered soon. For example, are the movie’s attempts to generate inclusion and representation of Chinese culture really honest or is it just Marvel/Sony’s way to meet the quota of diversity our current society demands? Is this movie a true and targeted attempt to combat the racial hatred induced by Trump due to COVID-19 or is it just another movie/project that happens to coincide with the current climate and events?

  11. vang
    1

    I’ve gone to see Shang Chi 4 times! Love love love Simu!!! Representation and SUPPORT is a MUST!!!!

    • Jaxon
      0

      If you like this guy, watch “Kim’s Convenience” which is a wonderful sitcom about an Asian family that runs a corner convenience store in Canada. It is hilariously funny and charming.

  12. Delilah
    1

    Simu reminds me of how humble Chadwick was when it was his time.

  13. Baird
    1

    As much as I enjoy the marvel movies, they started to feel a bit same old towards the end of the last phase.

  14. Mathias
    1

    Great film, I felt happy that I’d watched it rather than an exhausted feeling that you get from watching some films.

    • Leblanc
      1

      I loved it. Very easy to watch with some great masterly martial arts exhibitions. I’m going to watch it again on pay day. It felt at times a bit like watching the great Kung Fu movies if the 70s and 80s.

  15. Ashley
    1

    I remain sceptical as to MARVELs true intentions here. Rebirth a semi-obscure supe (with numerous others still ripe for a reboot) OR hold hands with China and make a guaranteed cool $1bn plus, plus.

    • STEEL
      1

      As someone who never read the comics, I have to say Marvel have already done all the heroes that the general public have heard of and that has pretty much been true for a decade (depending on whether you count Spiderman’s appearance in Civil War as the first Spiderman appearance)

      To me GoG, Ant Man, Wasp, Dr Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel were all heroes I’d never heard of until they appeared in the MCU. I assume you mean Shang Chi is obscure in the more dedicated Comic Fanbase; but to the general public there is no familiarisation of anyone that is left to appear. Therefore Marvel should just select whomever they want to on the basis of who has the most interesting story to tell

    • This is absolutely true. The fact is that Marvel caters to Chinese audiences, China being the largest movie-market in the world now. Ironically enough, this movie hasn’t played on a single screen in China, as their ministry of propaganda hasn’t allowed it through. I don’t think Marvel is “taking a stance,” they are putting on a display of inclusivity and representation only for sake of retaining their audiences.

  16. Duke
    1

    Never heard of Shang-Chi before the movie, it is hands down one of my favorite marvel movies and it definitely has THE best marvel fight scenes (not counting endgame bc that was all CGI).

  17. REdE
    0

    I’m working my way through the Marvels with my daughter, who wanted to see them. I must say they improve vastly when you watch them fairly close together, instead of several months apart. That way it’s easy to keep track of the characters and plot lines, and the films’ weaknesses become their strengths. Nobody ever dies and each film is just setting up for the next one, but that makes perfect sense when you watch them like the world’s most expensive TV series. I’m now a late convert.

    Anyway, I noticed that the terrorist group who kidnap Tony Stark in Iron Man were called the Ten Rings. Is this somehow related to this film?

    • Mohammad
      1

      Yes! And welcome to the club.

    • Pruitt
      1

      Be prepared to have one of your statements challenged as you go through the films. I won’t spoil it by saying more.

      I didn’t really have any interest in the Marvel films (I was always a huge Batman fan but didn’t much like any of the other DC characters) before I got the Disney channel for the kids during the first lockdown but started watching them and soon got hooked and watched them all plus the associated series both on Disney (Agents of Shield as well as the more recent spin off series) and Netflix (the Marvel series on Netflix are much more violent and gritty- definitely not ones for pre teens or adults of a nervous disposition but Netflix’s Daredevil is a million times better than the dreadful film with Ben Affleck (who is also awful as Batman)).

      I agree with you that they are better to watch as a series, especially as the order in which they came out didn’t match up with the chronological series. Marvel have managed to mix action, effects, story, characters and humour (this is something that’s important to me although I’m not always a fan of outright comedy films, I don’t like films that are completely humourless) in a way that makes the films enjoyable watching. Another series that has a similar mix is Lucifer on Prime and Netflix.

  18. Gina
    1

    Loved that they’d picked up on the almost balletic fight style of Crouching Tiger et al and then combined it with the recent crop of Asian American comedies – it felt very much like they wanted this to be an Asian Marvel movie, rather than a Marvel movie with a bit of Asian set dressing.

    It also impressed me that they were willing to have the opening scenes in Chinese-voiceover-with-English-subtitles. It would have been so easy (and must have been very tempting) to do an English voiceover, but nope – this is a story about people in mythological China and we will tell it in Chinese!

    It does feel like Marvel knows how they’re moving forward – and they’re determined not to stick with the same old same old.

    • lynch
      1

      Yeah I liked the use of actual Chinese where appropriate. It feels like they’ve actually committed to representation rather than just made a show of it.

  19. Brenton
    1

    Is it better than Kung Fu Panda?

    • OecO
      0

      I’ve seen both and the answer is… no.

  20. armani
    0

    Pleasantly surprised by this MCU offering. It is, indeed, an outlier, which in part is because of the excellent majority Asian cast, in part due to the genuine martial-arts on offer, and in part because the relationships seem genuine, rather than the YOU MUST FEEL THIS approach most of the franchise’s movies take.

    • Herman
      1

      I felt it takes a dip in the final third, as the CGI overwhelms and the character development all but disappears.

  21. Connor
    1

    Just see it recently, well put together but it’s very predictable and seems to be made for children – I’d say the same audience as would enjoy a Harry Potter film. It’s also packed with the usual super hero fights where they’re all loudly punching each other in the face with seemingly little effect. A bit silly.

    • pala
      0

      Oh god, that sounds like it some sort of “martial arts” film. How could you have expected that?

  22. Gray
    1

    Wuxia is great – both as cinema and books (may I recommend the four volumes of the Legends of Condor Heroes; fun and fast paced adventures). However, I didn’t think Shang-Chi was very good: the depictions of ancient China were soulless and even the protagonist was painfully bland. Many other good films to choose from in the genre, though.

    • Efrain
      0

      I love Zhang Yimou’s wuxia films. They almost always serve as an allegorical propaganda for the Chinese authoritarianism, but I still love them.

  23. Alondra
    1

    The fight on the bus is one of the best Marvel action scenes.

  24. Mikaela
    1

    I enjoyed the ambivalence of the characters and their relationships. Marvel has figured out the big lesson from Phase 1 and Loki’s continued popularity as a character – you have to make the stakes Personal for people to care.

  25. kelz
    1

    Basically a martial arts movie in a Marvel wrapper.

  26. Neil
    1

    Anyone else looking at the background in the fight club to see whether Wolverine was Easter Egged in??

  27. clark
    1

    Really liked this film.

  28. Ivy
    0

    At one point the characters are singing Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” – bit of self promoting there Disney, nice. 😛

  29. I enjoyed this article so much! As an Asian Canadian girl who had experienced snippets of Asian hate at my workplace and neighbourhood, MCU’s Shang Chi was a pinnacle moment for accurate Asian representations. Not just social norms and culture, but the upbringing of children, maintaining/retaining honour, and fulling one’s duty.

  30. Great article! It’s interesting that you note that this film was poorly received in China. The same thing happened with the Mulan remake in 2020 (although that film garnered less support in the US than Shang-Chi). It would be interesting to know how to bridge that gap between American and Chinese audiences so that all audiences can feel properly represented on the big screen.

  31. It was an amazing movie, and it’s a step to have more diversity in film!

  32. I love this movie, and now I love it even more

  33. It truly was awesome to see a film where clear effort has been put into adhering to cultural customs and representation, but at the sane time doesn’t make a big deal out of it. There are plenty of films where representation only comes off as tokenistic because it’s done on a superficial level. However in Shang-Chi these things are all just treated as normal parts of the characters lives, which I believe is what you truly need to do in order to demonstrate proper representation in media.

  34. Great article

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