How “Shang-Chi” is covering cultural ground for the Asian community

*Before I begin this article, I want to make it abundantly clear that I acknowledge that I am white and cannot come close to knowing the amount of pain and fear that my friends of color face every day due to racism and discrimination. My main goal with this article is to lift up the people of the BIPOC/AAPI community and to be as informative as possible about a subject that I am still learning about.  

About a month ago, my roommate texted me and asked, “You know how Shang-Chi comes out just after we get back to school? Would you want to go with me to see it?” Obviously, I said yes because come on… it’s Marvel! But, if I’m being honest, all I knew about “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was that it was just that: a Marvel movie. I had no clue that this was such a monumental film for the Asian community. 

For many children, it is important for them to see themselves as a superhero. I remember when I was 10 years old and saw “The Avengers” for the first time in theaters. Seeing Black Widow fight her way through armies of aliens and measure up to these five strong men on her team made me feel so empowered as a woman. I looked up to her so much that for Halloween I dyed my hair temporarily red just so that I could be her. 

Now, imagine that scenario again but as a person of color. Imagine watching “The Avengers” and only seeing white superheroes (other than the icon that is Nick Fury). After this movie, you continue to watch more movies, and even then, are people of color ever the main character? Not usually. They are normally a supporting character who plays into heavy stereotypes. 

While there is an abundance of quality films made in Korea, China, Japan and other Asian countries, how can the American superhero movie genre be expanded to focus more on Asian characters and narratives? 

It is highly important for not only children but people of all ages to see themselves on screen. Carole Chee (‘24) and Rachel Shaw (‘24) commented more on the importance of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” for cultural progression in the media. 

In our interview, I asked Shaw a little bit about her background and why she has a strong connection to this movie. She said, “I am a white woman, so I acknowledge this is not my community to speak for, but half my family is from China. We practice a lot of Chinese traditions and eat a lot of Chinese food at home. I’ve also visited multiple times and hope to return in the future as political relations allow. I am also an avid Marvel fan and have been for many years.” 

Shaw firmly believes in the importance of seeing yourself represented as a superhero. She used her younger siblings as an example. “My little sister is always dressing up as Captain Marvel,” Shaw said. “I can’t wait for her to see herself represented twice over in Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing and to be able to grow up knowing she can become whatever she wants to be because she’s seen others who look like herself do it in the movies. Watching this movie and listening to the amount of Mandarin spoken I got a little teary thinking about how my brother will finally see a Marvel movie, with which he is obsessed, and hear his native language and see someone who looks like him saving the day.” 

Xialing

I asked Chee if she thought that Chinese culture was accurately represented in the film. Here is what she had to say: 

“Yes and no. I think that this was a great push for inclusive media and I hope that the film will motivate viewers to learn more about Chinese and Asian culture, but at the same time, this is a superhero movie. We don’t look to films like ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ to give us a full representation of American culture during WWII. That is, of course, because the films are catered to a Western audience with prior contextual understanding, but my point is that we cannot turn around and watch ‘Shang-Chi’ expecting it to fully represent Chinese culture. It’s also important to note that the film creates exposure largely for the hegemonic Chinese culture, ignoring the true cultural diversity that does exist in Asia. It also preys on stereotypes that assume sexism in Chinese tradition and exacerbate the concept of power-hungry rulers. To a certain extent, I think that ‘Shang-Chi’ is a better representation of Chinese-American culture and the many struggles that come from holding citizenship in multiple cultures.” 

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a step in the right direction for Marvel as it is lifting up Asian voices, but there is definitely more that needs to be done in this cinematic universe as well as others. 

I also asked Chee if she thought that there was a correlation between Shang-Chi’s release date and Asian hate due to COVID-19. She answered, “For many people, I think it will create the opportunity to broaden one’s perspectives and open one’s eyes and heart to the experiences of people who are often ‘othered’ and pushed aside. It’s important to note that the racism that has become increasingly clear against the AAPI community is not something new that arose because of a virus. The virus has no racial bias. This racism is deeply rooted in years of oppression, and the COVID-19 pandemic gave a lot of ignorant and hateful people an excuse to very publicly demonstrate their best traits.” 

Picture from the NYTimes

Many ignorant people are using this pandemic as an excuse to spread Asian hate, but this was never where it started. Just like for many other groups of oppressed people, racism against Asian people started a long time ago, so much so that it is ingrained into society. This is why “Shang-Chi” is so important right now. It can be used to acknowledge and lift up the Asian community, correct ignorance and cover cultural ground in an action-packed, extraordinarily magical and comedically fun way.



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