Marvel’s “Shang-Chi” is giving Asians a superhero to call their own

The Marvel Cinematic Universe recently celebrated its ten-year anniversary. And since its inception, it has exposed casual and hardcore comic book fans alike to the stories of Marvel superheroes, including some of the more obscure ones.

For instance, 2018’s “Black Panther” burst onto the scene as a cultural event for African-Americans and black people across the world. And for many, this was their first time seeing a hero that looked like them gracing the silver screen in a blockbuster film.

Now, in 2021, Marvel Studios is looking to once again create a cultural event with the release of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

The film is based on the Marvel comics character Shang-Chi, though his origin story is different than most heroes. His father was a criminal who raised him inside a secret fortress in China, where Shang-Chi was trained in martial arts. When he became older, Shang-Chi was sent by his father to kill an old enemy. While doing this, he learns the truth about the father he was sheltered from as a child, thus turning Shang-Chi into a hero. 

Shang-Chi has always been one of Marvel’s more obscure characters, but that didn’t stop actor Simu Liu from tweeting Marvel about him. This tweet from 2014 shows he has always wanted an MCU version of Shang-Chi

Liu posted more tweets in the years that followed until “Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings was announced by Marvel in 2019 with Liu playing the role of Shang-Chi. The film was originally delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it will arrive in theaters on September 3.

A trailer was released in May, and it grabbed people’s attention with its visuals and fight choreography. But of course, the most noticeable aspect of the trailer was that all of the actors showcased, besides one, are of Asian descent. To date, Asians were largely ignored by superhero films in the past until “Shang-Chi’s” director Destin Daniel Cretton decided that should no longer be the case.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Cretton mentions that he didn’t really grow up as a superhero fan:

“[Growing up] all I had was Spider-Man. Because he had the mask on, I could dress up like Spider-Man for Halloween. I had a handful of other characters that looked like me on screen, but there were maybe two or three that I could choose from, and superheroes were not a part of that.”

Eventually, he had a meeting with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, which would lead to “Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings.” The film will also star Awkwafina as Katy, a friend of Shang-Chi. She has also been vocal about the film avoiding stereotypes. In an interview with, Awkwafina mentions that the film used stuntmen who specialized in martial arts for authenticity. She also says that “Everything that this movie is about in terms of the culture and also the action movie genre, it’s authentic every way through.”

A modern Shang-Chi film would not be a problem for Marvel since every MCU film that comes out is pretty much a success. The only issue Marvel would potentially run into is the Asian stereotypes involved with the character. Recently in the United States, a number of rallies against anti-Asian violence, known as the #StopAsianHate movement, have been held. These rallies exist due to the rise in Asian hate crimes stemming from stereotypes related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Therefore, it would be wise for this film to do its best to avoid those stereotypes, as they dehumanize Asians and could potentially lead to the aforementioned hate crimes. The cast seemed to realize this going into the film. While Liu is a Shang-Chi fan, even he realizes some aspects of the character have not aged well:

So when we first started to map out who this character was and what his journey was going to be over the course of this film, we were all very sensitive to not have it go into stereotypical territory.”  

As a character created in the 70s, it’s no surprise that there are aspects of the character that did not age well. For instance, take the white savior trope that has constantly plagued media involving ethnic minorities. Usually, the white savior is a Caucasian person who helps the main character, usually a minority, in his quest. This usually happens when studio executives think people won’t watch movies without a white person in the spotlight.
It happened already in the “Black Panther” film, but interviews with the cast and director make it clear it will not happen in this film. If this is going to be a predominantly Asian film, then let the main character overcome obstacles by himself. At this point, audiences don’t care what skin color he is. They just want a good film. “Black Panther” gave that to them and now it’s “Shang-Chi’s” turn.