Can Marvel’s Shang-Chi Rise Above The Asian Representation Stereotype?
As Marvel rolls out its movie and TV show slate for Phase 4 of its cinematic universe, one of the goals high on Marvel President, Kevin Feige’s list is incorporating as much diversity as possible into onscreen as well as off-screen roles. The success of 2018’s Black Panther movie further amplified the need for Marvel Studios to explore the opportunities that lie in diversification. As a result, Marvel announced in 2018, that filming on its first Asian superhero series had commenced. Fast forward to 2021 and we’ve got a first look at the teaser trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and now we wonder about Asian representation in the feature.
The series is set to follow the story of a martial artist – Shang-Chi – who is supposedly the heir to an evil dynasty called the Ten Rings but instead, runs to San Fransisco to live a ‘normal’ life. The action-packed trailer also gave viewers a look at other important members of the cast such as The Mandarin and Death Dealer.
Marvel’s Struggle With Asian Representation
Clips from the trailer suggest that The Mandarin, who is actually Shang-Chi’s father will attempt to lure his son back into the family business. But after over a decade of living in the West, it’s very unlikely he will return willingly. There have been hints that the series will feature a Dragon-Style Tournament and the price could be the coveted ten rings – which has been modified to glowing arm-bracelets in the series.
For Marvel, it hasn’t been easy warming it’s way into the hearts of Asian audiences through the years and several attempts at depicting Asian characters have fallen to major criticism. There was a cheeky attempt to introduce The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 as the supervillain/mastermind behind the grand plot. But after prompt warning of the racial stereotypes a wrong representation might present, the MCU craftily revealed that Trevor Slattery – played by Ben Kingsley – was in fact, posing as a fake Mandarin.
Iron Fist was supposed to be another attempt at getting into Asian territory and might have made it if its main character wasn’t a stereotypical white kid who spent a lot of time beating up the Asian masters – who are supposed to be the masters of martial arts. Although Iron Fist can still be forgiven because it was based on source material, casting Tinda Swilton – of Celtic origin – as the Ancient One, who was originally of Asian decent in the comics, raised further outcry.
The Studio is Making Amends
Marvel will attempt to atone for all its mistakes in the upcoming series which has a nearly All-Asian cast. Destin Daniel Cretton is the director that has been tasked with bringing the series to life, with a lot of emphasis placed on the need to avoid the usual racial stereotypes that were very much in the source material. Cretton describes his work with his team as a constant flux of reviewing and deliberating. According to him, taking their time to go over the lines allows everyone to weigh in at some point or the other.
Furthermore, the recruitment of one of Hong Kong’s biggest cinema icons, Tony Leung to play the titular Mandarin and Leader of the Ten Rings lends more credence and authenticity to the series. But are all of these measures enough to appease the Asian community? Early reviews for the teaser trailer of Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings from Asia have been less than appealing. Reddit reports that out of 3,400 viewers who voted on them Marvel’s YouTube Taiwan account, about 1,600 disliked the trailer, while over 600 out of 1000 voters on the Marvel’s Hong Kong accounts disapproved as well.
Watch: Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings | Official Teaser
Even though it’s still too early to judge, these concerns are understandable considering how Asian stereotypes have been unconsciously displayed in Hollywood in the past. From fighting stereotypes to racial stereotypes, the Asian community have long demanded for better storylines for Asian characters that doesn’t necessarily involves martial arts and Kung Fu. The unprecedented inspiration and purpose Black Panther created for black people is something other races are increasingly aching for.
The past few months have been pretty tough for Asians in Europe dealing with the pandemic in foreign countries, and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings presents an opportunity for the MCU to offer some much-needed hope and renewed belief. The extent to which Director Destin Daniel Cretton will be able to deliver an action-packed, full-fledged, martial arts series without sinking into stereotypical potholes, could just be the turning point for Asian actors – and superheroes in Hollywood.
The film is scheduled to be released September 3, 2021 and is one of four Marvel titles headed to theaters this year along with Black Widow (July 9), Eternals (Nov. 5) and Spider-Man: No Way Home (Dec. 17). What do you think can Marvel’s Shang-Chi finally change the game for Asian representation?