By Owen Miguel, Staff Writer
Marvel Studios released Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, to theaters on Sept. 3. The company’s first Asian superhero movie, starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina and Tony Leung Chiu-wai, has been a massive success in both the box office and the eyes of critics, earning an estimated $320 million worldwide and receiving a 7.9/10 on IMDb.
As Black Panther and Wonder Woman did previously, Shang-Chi came with the burden of not only being a good movie, but also bringing in a lot of money. At the same time, it sent a message of accepting and recognizing the movie’s main demographic along the social causes that they confront.
Shang-Chi is important because of its role in Asian and Asian-American representation, but it is also important because it shows the ugly side of sociopolitical agendas and performative activism.
Most Americans are at least somewhat familiar with the bare bones concepts of Asian culture, more so than other cultures. We consume Asian food and video games and TV shows, even injecting Asian culture in White-produced movies.
However, with the growing outcry to “Stop Asian Hate,” more people are beginning to understand the problems that Asian and Asian-American people face daily. With Shang-Chi and even movies that came out before it, like Crazy Rich Asians, these social causes have been pushed into the spotlight.
These movies have been heralded as the change needed for these causes to be taken seriously. There are some merits to these claims; Asian representation has been lacking in major parts of society, and using a mostly Asian cast would indeed solve a little bit of that problem while also bringing it much-needed attention.
While it doesn’t solve the problems that Asians and Asian-Americans face, it at least shows that people are becoming more aware of the need to address them.
But releasing this movie during a time when more are becoming vocal and active about Asian struggles seems a bit suspicious. Marvel likes releasing important cultural and sociopolitical movies during the height of that movie demographic’s social movement, like Black Panther.
While it’s common knowledge that Marvel has a structured timeline as to how they release their movies, the marketing of these movies heavily plays into being a force for change and recognition.
This is in no way the fault of the director and staff; they did a phenomenal job with their unique and accurate telling of Asian culture and themes.
The movie is being praised for its box office success and shows companies that featuring Asian characters and culture can still bring in the big bucks. It’s a form of performative activism that is sadly practiced in most companies to help sell their products.
Shang-Chi is an achievement in film and a step in the right direction to bring forth the problems Asian and Asian-American people face on a daily basis. However, it is also a message that companies will hijack social causes to make a quick buck.
It is important for us as the public to understand both of these extremes and give our support to those who need it most.