The Shang-Chi Announcement, and What it Means for Asians (and Asian Men)

Earlier today, Marvel announced the first superhero movie with an Asian protagonist, Shang-Chi. Even though we don’t have a cast or director yet (and movies can oftentimes fall by the wayside), announcement by itself is a huge moment in the lives of Asian Americans.

According to Deadline, Marvel is looking at directors who can potentially create “something as monumental as Black Panther.” Chinese-American screenwriter Dave Callaham has already been hired, a perfect screenwriter for a story that has strong Chinese roots.

China and Asia in general is exploding in not only popularity, but also wealth, and studio execs are taking notice. Nowadays, your franchise/movie can be a massive hit if you can penetrate the China market, even if your domestic box office isn’t stellar (see Skyscraper).

Asian Americans have more median wealth than any other group, including whites, and therefore many more of us can afford to go the movies. The success of Crazy Rich Asians brought forth the idea that an all-Asian cast can make $200 million+ at the box office. To a different extent, seeing Black Panther do well showed Hollywood that minority stories are speaking to people beyond just minorities.

Even though Asian Americans represent a small portion of the population, our influence is growing more than our numbers, and we have much disproportionately more representation in major cities like Los Angeles and New York.  There is a clamor and new voice amongst Asian Americans that we WANT more Asian representation, and it’s starting to show. This is a MASSIVE leap for Hollywood, and it feels good to be a part of it.

Shang Chi looks like a mix between Liu Kang and Bruce Lee. He isn’t a well-known character, but I’m not worried about that. Black Panther and several other Avengers (Ant-Man, Dr. Strange) weren’t popular either, but they’ve exploded in recognization since their inclusion in the MCU.

Interestingly enough, he even has a love interest (in at least 1 issue), the superheroine Domino who was played by Zazie beats in the movie Deadpool 2.

With the Phase 4 of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe just on the horizon, there needed to be a number of new rich characters introduced into the fold. Iron Man is getting old, and won’t be around forever (and Robert Downey can’t play the character for too much longer). The latest batch of heroes needs to move into the new era and help direct the franchise forward. Marvel has come out and said that diversity is going to be a huge part of that.

Shang-Chi brings the element of rich Asian mythology to the series, which adds all sorts of possibilities. Asian stories have traditionally had a very magical quality to them, and the added kung-fu cinematics can bring excitement into the series. Imagine the choreography of a Bruce Lee movie with the special effects and visual power of a Marvel film.

With the element of the Chinese box office, this movie could easily become one of the most profitable movies in Marvel history.

Even though partly the movie’s production is because Marvel knows it can make big bucks with a movie targeting the Chinese audience, the fact that it’s considering diversity in Phase 4 is a beautiful sign that Hollywood is evolving and becoming much more empathetic to people of other cultures.

What does this mean for Asian men, and Asian Americans in general?

One colleague mentioned how the inclusion of martial arts will further stereotype Asian men. First off, martial arts isn’t something that Asian men need to shy away from. In fact, it should honestly be seen as a good thing, as the ability to be able to defend yourself is highly desirable.

Now I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves as this movie could fall through the cracks at any moment, but it does seem like it stands on solid footing. And as long as they don’t white-wash the character, I can see this becoming a great step forward for Asian men and Asian representation in general.

No, we’re not going to shed our “beta nerd male” stereotype overnight, but having an Asian superhero that could potentially be in 4-6 movies can only help the cause.

And while Crazy Rich Asians was great for Asian Americans, it was still a very female dominated narrative.

Could Shang-Chi help us create the next Asian male star?

Written by Editorial Staff