Shang-Chi and asian representation in Hollywood


By Marcus Alvarez
October 16, 2021

The new, historic Marvel movie, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a fresh take on a classic Marvel movie.

Photo from IMDb.

This movie introduces a new superhero perspective to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) by using fantasy elements (legends and strange creatures) and martial arts choreography.

The Marvel film centers around Shang-Chi, or Shaun, as his life as a valet driver in the U.S. turns upside down when his family’s powerful legacy catches up to him. Simu Liu plays a relatable millennial named Shaun, who gets caught up with the family drama and must confront his past. Shaun’s “side-kick,” Katy, played by Awkwafina, provides comedic relief in the film alongside co-star Simu Liu. Wenwu/Mandarin, played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai, gives an impressive performance of the villain, with complex motivations and a beautiful character arc.

Associate professor of sociology and criminology at Cabrini, Dr. Katie Farina, binged all the Marvel movies during the pandemic. She felt “Shang-Chi” was one of the better Marvel films.

“I enjoyed the character development and felt it was more nuanced than others. I really enjoyed it and it made me excited to see how this new phase of the MCU was going to unfold,” Farina said.

“Shang-Chi” is a movie that helps kick off the MCU into phase four. Phase four of the MCU is content post-endgame or movies/shows released after 2021. “Shang-Chi” is the first stand-alone superhero movie that veers away from MCU’s widely recognized characters.

The main draw of the movie is its focus on Chinese culture and Asian representation. And of course, Simu Liu’s performance as the first Asian-led superhero (Shang-Chi) is executed with power and grace.

“Shang-Chi” is the first Asian superhero movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel’s popular and massively successful “Black Panther” (2018) film set the precedent of featuring diverse backgrounds in Marvel movies.

Shang-Chi’s cultural significance stems from Hollywood’s poor representation of Asians in film and television in the last century, which has been damaging.

Asian-American men and women in the media have been fighting stereotypes of the emasculated “nerdy” type or the overly sexualized woman who appeases the white lead.

“Shang-Chi went against these stereotypes. The protagonist emerges as an unlikely hero in many ways. He’s not seen as a nerdy guy but instead works at a car service. The female protagonist of the film steps up and learns archery to help defend against the ‘big bad’ villain… neither her intelligence nor her sexuality or looks are focused on,” Farina said.

The movie Shang-Chi “gave an understanding that the Asian community are not their stereotypes…Shang-Chi’s best friend [could] speak her own native language, which showed that she was perfectly fine with being herself,” Cabrini criminology student, Samantha Belle, said.

Under-representation in movies has been another problem Asian-Americans face in Hollywood. Films that have a small representation of Asians perpetuate the erasure of Asians in Hollywood or Western media.

Asians continue to fight to break barriers and stereotypes in Western media.

Photos from IMDb.

Recently, films like “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Farewell” and “Minari” have become popular hits that continue the growth of Asian representation in Hollywood. The South Korean film, “Parasite” (2019), was a massive hit and even won the best picture at the Oscars. “Shang-Chi” is the latest movie featuring an all-Asian cast and an Asian director.

Marvel is reaching new heights, with its popular “Shang-Chi” movie and the upcoming movie “The Eternals”, directed by award-winning director Chloé Zhao, featuring another diverse cast.

It’s now time for Hollywood and Western media to continue to represent diverse and unique backgrounds. And, to show audiences in the United States that they matter.

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Marcus Alvarez

Hello, my name is Marcus Alvarez! I'm currently studying at New York University pursuing a journalism career. At Cabrini, I served as a reporter in my second year at Cabrini and became Managing Editor in my fifth semester. As a journalist now and in the future, I hope to cover social justice issues and investigate problems facing my community. A fun fact about me is that I am a dual citizen of the United States and Australia.

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