By Justin Wong
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios took to the stage at Hall H to reveal upcoming productions from the studio. One of the announced films was ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’, Marvel’s first Asian – led superhero film. During the epic panel it was also revealed that Shang-Chi himself, will be played by Toronto actor Simu Liu, most known for playing Jung on ‘Kim’s Convenience’. It is an understatement to say that Shang-Chi will have a monumental impact on Asian representation, but to what extent and how will it affect the Asian communities in North America?
Over the past five years, Asian-Americans have slowly been making an impact within Western media. ABC began airing Fresh off the Boat, a sitcom about an Asian-American family in the 90’s starring Randall Park and Constance Wu. In Canada, Korean-led comedy series Kim’s Convenience was a smashing hit. While the success of the shows make it clear that an audience exists for stories from underrepresented groups (the Asian diaspora in particular), Crazy Rich Asians was the film that took this representation to a new level. The film made history for Asian-American representation last year, when it became the first Hollywood film in almost three decades to feature an ethnically Asian cast. The film also dominated box offices worldwide; grossing over $238 million - becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade. It might just look like numbers, but to Hollywood executives, this shows that films featuring an all Asian cast can be considered profitable. Following the success of CRA, other films have emerged that began to feature all Asian casts, including the critically acclaimed Awkwafina flick ‘The Farewell’, Netflix’s well received romantic comedy ‘Always Be My Maybe’, and of course, Shang-Chi.
When asked how he believes Shang-Chi will impact Asian representation, Simon Tam, activist and founder of Asian-American rock band The Slants told VIBE105: “I think the upcoming Shang-Chi film is generally important in providing more representation for underrepresented communities, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though it is probably more meaningful for Asian Americans than those outside of our community.” Tam also mentioned how for many years, “Asians have tried moving away from the kind of roles that put us into stereotypical tropes such as martial artists. The character of Shang-Chi is Chinese-born and literally the Master of Kung Fu (in the comics). That being said, it is significant to have representation from a Marvel title.”
New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsh at a rally by Asian – Americans calling for the targeted murder of three Asian men at a NYC restaurant to be labeled a Hate Crime. The accused claims to have committed the act after seeing a film portraying Asian men as misogynistic abusers.
As to how this will affect the community, it is important to note that for decades, Asian men were often portrayed as either effeminate or sexless and hence had no love interest, or as misogynistic and violent (often the trope in many ‘White savior’ type stories). The emasculated and violent characterizations of Asian men were not only in media, but its twisted perceptions of what Asian men were like have also crept into the real world. From Asian men being seen as the least attractive dating partners in various studies, to the hammer murders of three Asian men in New York City who were allegedly targeted by a White man who claimed to have done the act to ‘protect Asian women’, after having seen a film that depicted Asian men abusing Asian women. With the success of films such as Crazy Rich Asians and the anticipated success of Shang-Chi, could we see a reversal once and for all in how Asian men are portrayed in the media?
“I’m not sure if this singular film will be enough to challenge the emasculation of Asian men. I think the shift in culture requires many sources in pop culture willing to challenge that notion, especially providing nontraditional roles” says Tam. “However, it is encouraging to see more studios beginning to embrace diversity in ways that were completely absent when I was growing up.” Media portrayals can have a tremendous impact on minorities and how the world perceives them. Additionally, for persons of colour to see their stories brought to the big screen can have a positive impact on the community as their voices are being heard.
The latest member of the Avengers family, Simu Liu, is a Chinese – Canadian and a strong advocate for positive Asian representation in media. In fact, he recently bought out a whole theatre in Toronto and gave away all his tickets for ‘The Farewell’, starring his Shang-Chi co-star and Asian – American rapper Awkwafina. With the recent developments regarding Asian representation in popular media, it is encouraging to see an increasing amount of Asian talent and stories make their way to the hearts and eyes of mass audiences. Shang-Chi might not be the one ‘infinity stone’ that we need to solve all the problems with representation, but it marks a great historical step and could potentially be the equivalent of the ‘Black Panther’ to the Asian – North American diaspora community.