The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a long and glorious legacy since its inception in 2008. It is now a multi-billion dollar franchise, with films breaking all kinds of records. They have Avengers: Endgame which became the second-highest grossing film of all time (the highest for a little while) and then there was Black Panther, the history-making, groundbreaking, first superhero film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
These are just two of the many amazing feats that Marvel Studios have achieved through the MCU. However, while as a fan it feels thrilling to look back at MCU’s history, we also have to acknowledge for many years the franchise catered to their white and male audience. It was in 2017 when Black Panther released, which had a Black lead and cast. In 2019, Brie Larson became the first woman to lead a film in the franchise with Captain Marvel.
Similarly, it is in 2021, 13 years since the beginning of the MCU that we are getting its first Asian lead. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings starring Simu Liu and an all-Asian cast, including Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung, is all set to make history when it releases on September 3.
While it’s great that we are finally getting this film, it could have come to us earlier, especially because the Ten Rings have been mentioned since Iron Man (2008). In Iron Man 3, we saw Ben Kingsley play Trevor Slattery, an actor fronting as the Mandarin, taking away the opportunity to showcase Iron Man’s great nemesis in the comics (and to cast an Asian character as the villain).
The twist in Iron Man 3 backfired, and the Studios had to rectify this by releasing the short film All Hail the King (2014), starring Kingsley which showed that there is a real Mandarin who is displeased by Trevor Slattery’s caricature of him. Years later, we found out that the Mandarin is Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s father.
Now that we have established that a Shang-Chi movie could have come sooner, let us give the Studios credit where it is due. For starters, Shang-Chi is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and written by Cretton and David Callaham. As mentioned before, the film consists of an all-Asian cast. While it should be the norm for a film like this, it often isn’t in Hollywood. The credit for this, in part, also goes to the impact Black Panther had on the franchise, as well as the culture.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is also the first MCU film to feature martial arts as a fighting technique. Previously, Marvel Studios was criticised for the cultural appropriation in Iron Fist, a comic character who is an expert in all martial arts. Shang-Chi in a way, also has potential to correct the misstep from the past.
Similarly, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also has the responsibility to amending the racial stereotypes that were perpetuated by Marvel Comics with its early storylines. In the comics, the Mandarin was depicted with exaggerated features and stereotypical catchphrases. On the other hand, there was the supervillain Fu Manchu, (Shang-Chi’s father and later arch-nemesis) who was also depicted with racial stereotypes. In the upcoming film, these two characters have been merged into one, and will hopefully be a better written villain than it was in the comics.
In the trailers and videos released by Marvel to promote the film, we can see that there are many elements of Chinese legend and mythology incorporated in the film. On the other hand, it also aims to paint an authentic picture of life in San Francisco’s Chinatown as well as of first-gen Asian Americans.
Marvel is slowly and steadily learning the importance of telling these stories, and doing it the right way. Shang-Chi’s story will help many people feel seen, and it is of utmost importance to tell it without perpetuating stereotypes. Hence, expectations from the cast and crew are high.
From the videos and early reviews of the film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is touted to be one of the best and most impactful superhero films of 2021. It has the potential of being the next cultural phenomenon.