Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the latest Marvel movie to hit theaters and the first Marvel movie to feature an Asian superhero. It SMASHED box office records and had the second biggest pandemic debut after Black Widow, which was released earlier this year. Go Asian superheroes! Representation matters!
Excluding Black Panther which featured Chadwick Boseman, an African-American man, all other Marvel movies featured white men as their leading actors. Captain Marvel and Black Widow, which featured women as their titular characters, casted white women. After two decades of the Marvel Cinematic Universe releasing 25 movies, they are finally catching up with what the underrepresented groups (Asians, African-Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, women and so on) deserve.
While the “mainstream” MCU has been somewhat behind in representation, Marvel television has been light-years ahead. Marvel’s first Asian superhero premiered in 2015 when Chloe Bennet’s Skye was revealed to be Daisy Johnson, aka Quake, an Inhuman who can manipulate vibrations and cause quake pulses. Chloe Bennet is half-Chinese and she too faced adversity due to her race. Unable to land any jobs with her birth surname, ‘Wang’, she was forced to change her surname to ‘Bennet’ which resulted in her immediately getting hired for the next audition she went for. Thanks to the open-mindedness of Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, show-runners and executive producers of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the twelve longest-running main characters of the show included: two Asian-American women, one African-American man, two English, a Scot, a Mexican-American woman, one Australian man, three white American men and one white American woman.
The diversity in the show is incredible to the point that when one of the main characters in the show was teased to die, Luke Mitchell, correctly guessed it would be him, because he was playing the straight, white guy. He knew that the show-runners would not kill off the five in the core cast or the gay, African-American or Mexican-American characters.
That being said, James Gunn director of Guardians of the Galaxy, recently refused to acknowledge the Marvel television shows preceding WandaVision as canon. This is including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, despite multiple character crossovers, including Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter, both of whom started in the “mainstream” MCU and returned in Marvel’s What If…? series in August 2021 after the conclusion of their respective shows.
As a cynic, my assumption is that the mainstream MCU refuses to acknowledge the Marvel television shows because of reused plots. WandaVision, which kick-started Stage 4 of the MCU, used a great many of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. story devices, including, but not limited to: the creation of a fake reality (the Framework vs the Hex), Daisy quaking Lincoln’s heart back to life (“Not everyone has the kind of power that could bring their soulmate back to life”), Aida offering Daisy exactly what Wanda created for herself (her dead love back, kids, a peaceful life, growing old together and no bad memories of all the trauma they had gone through), the Darkhold (albeit with different appearances) and jumping through different time periods. Additionally, Bennet’s Daisy/Skye/Quake premiered in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. before Wanda Maximoff hit the screens in Captain America and the Winter Soldier, and her superhero abilities and Luke Mitchell’s Lincoln Campbell – the original Wanda and Vision – aired on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a few weeks before Avengers: Age of Ultron hit the cinemas. Admittedly, the writers of WandaVision claim that that television show was based on the comics the “House of M”, but their denial of acknowledging the Marvel television shows could be because they want their current shows to appear as original as possible.
With this in mind, it is good that Simu Liu’s Shang-Chi is doing so well in the box office. Regardless of the recognition of the Marvel television shows as canon, it is wonderful that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is getting so much fame and representation worldwide. Since movies are catered towards their audiences, most movies don’t feature the underrepresented groups because the directors and producers fear less people will watch said movies. With the success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, perhaps more movies will be made featuring these underrepresented groups, particularly for the big screen.
Over the course of the last few years, underrepresented groups have been featured more and more in books and movies. The To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series, featuring Vietnamese-American Lana Condor, became extremely popular on Netflix and Crazy Rich Asians gained worldwide recognition. Movies like Love, Simon featuring the LGBTQ+ community and television shows like The 100 having bisexual leads also support the underrepresented groups; although the choice of killing off Lexa, Clarke’s female love interest in The 100 was definitely a controversial decision. However, one of the biggest major pluses about said movies and television shows is that all of them are based on books; these being written by Jenny Han, Kevin Kwan, Becky Albertalli and Kass Morgan respectively, which means that even if you’ve watched all the movies/television series already, then you have plenty of books to read!
As an Asian and a woman, I think it is wonderful that underrepresented groups are getting more recognition and being valued more. With that being said, if you are unable to go to cinemas because of lockdowns or yet-to-be-reopened movie theaters to watch Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, you could read one of the aforementioned books instead! Or all of them….