The first Asian superhero to hit the Hollywood big screen could shake up long-held images of good and evil.
Marvel announced this month that the studio would be releasing “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in 2020, the studio’s first film starring an Asian superhero in its over-25-year history. Simu Liu, who’s been gunning for a superhero role since 2014, told HuffPost that his role of Shang-Chi is “an opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to the world following years of stereotypes and caricatures and tired tropes.”
As recent as 2019′s “Avengers: Endgame,” superhero movie plotlines have relegated Asian men to villain characters. Sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen pointed out that in the film, archer Hawkeye kills several Asian men in Japan “for no logical reason.” Yuen added that Asian men have long represented threats, painted as barbarous and exotic others.
And if the upcoming movie’s villain The Mandarin, played by Tony Leung, avoids the age-old tropes, the film, by portraying Asians with more complexity and nuance, could challenge our notions of what gatekeepers of truth and justice can look like.
“Having an Asian superhero lead within the same Marvel universe shows the world that Asians can also be saviors.” sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen
The role of the patriotic hero, fighting for the greater good has long been occupied by white men, with some rare exceptions like Black Panther. In the Marvel universe, the most patriotic of heroes, Captain America, is white, blonde-haired and blue-eyed, Yuen said.
“But even ‘alien’ superheroes like Thor fit this mold,” she continued.
“Having an Asian superhero lead within the same Marvel universe shows the world that Asians can also be saviors,” she said. “This is huge.”
Moreover, a Chinese superhero could “representationally challenge the xenophobia and anti-Chinese sentiments expressed by the current administration,” she said.
The Trump administration has vilified scholars and researchers of Chinese descent, warning companies and universities of Chinese espionage. FBI officials have reportedly visited at least 10 members of the Association of American Universities, a group of more than 60 research institutions, to advise them to monitor students who have affiliations with certain Chinese institutions and companies. And last year, FBI director Chris Wray proclaimed Chinese individuals in academia as a “whole-of-society threat” during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
“The arrival of Shang-Chi is especially timely, given that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing group in the United States,” Yuen said. “The impact on future generations will survive long past this administration.”
“I think seeing yourself represented in that way can have a profound impact on how you view your place in society, your cultural identity and what you are capable of achieving.” Simu Liu, who's slated to play superhero Shang-Chi
It’s the underlying symbols of morality and empathy that attracted Liu to the role in the first place, and the social impact of an Asian protector for the greater good isn’t lost on him.
“They’re the ones who always do the right thing, stand up for the little guy and then fly away into the sunset. What could be more cool than that?” he told HuffPost. “I think seeing yourself represented in that way can have a profound impact on how you view your place in society, your cultural identity and what you are capable of achieving.”
Liu explained to HuffPost that his new role feels “like progress.” Crediting those who came before him, from those on YouTube like Wong Fu Productions, who made content when Hollywood wasn’t so welcoming to Asian Americans, to sitcoms like “Kim’s Convenience” and “Fresh Off The Boat,” the actor said his upcoming film comes “on the heels of years of hard work.”
“I’m honored that I played a small part in this fight, and I’m ready to bear that torch if and when it is asked of me.”