Shang-Chi: A Win for Representation…for the Model Minority
Marvel's Shang-Chi is a win...but for who exactly?
Shang-Chi, released by Marvel Studios on September 3, 2021 in the United States, originally held promise as a win for Asian representation, expanding into what was predominantly (and in essence still is) a genre and subculture geared at cisgender white men. With the strides for representation made by Black Panther (2018) and Captain Marvel (2019), this was on the surface a welcome instance of inclusion of an all too often forgotten minority. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was debuting an Asian superhero – a chance for Asian children everywhere to see that they could be superheroes too.
This is great! It is the type of news you would retweet, share with your parents to show how the times are changing, and celebrate at your cultural org. It’s feel-good, fluffy, and may even give you warm fuzzies as we march towards our brave new world. But it is also a shameless (seemingly successful) attempt by Marvel to capitalize on the newfound spotlight that the Asian-American community has been thrust into this past year. This rise to the headlines is for all the wrong reasons – mainly, the surge in hate crimes committed against Asian-Americans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we came together and mobilized, resulting in millions of dollars being raised, legislation being passed, and members of the community seizing this moment to educate the world on the rich history and culture of Asian America. One could argue that this fantastic community effort is what resulted in the release of Shang-Chi.
However, everything from the promotion to the reception reeks of identity politics; representation-first activism disguised as a monumental victory.
To be clear, this is in no way a reflection on Shang-Chi itself: representation is a necessary part of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives and I am genuinely happy to see a movie featuring an Asian lead, cast and narrative, being embraced by a mainstream audience. The cast is similarly overjoyed, with lead Simu Liu taking particular pleasure in @-ing critics who called out the film for “pandering to wokeness” and dismissing it as a box office flop. Since his role in CBC’s Kim’s Convenience, where the Chinese-Canadian actor played one of the main characters of a Korean family in Toronto, he has skyrocketed to fame through a mixture of thirst traps and Asian advocacy. Despite being known for both in equal measure (albeit one more than the other on certain corners of the internet), his activism – like that of so many celebrities – rings hollow when held up against his actions.
Liu has been criticized for anti-blackness, misogyny, tone deaf remarks – perhaps most horrifically, his 180-degree turn on Mark Wahlberg who in 1988 physically assaulted a middle-aged Vietnamese American man, yelling racist epithets while knocking him unconscious and after being found guilty ultimately served only 45 days of his two-year sentence. When Wahlberg’s hate crimes resurfaced, Liu was quick to condemn him on twitter – only to delete his tweets the moment he was cast in a movie (the upcoming Arthur the King) with Wahlberg, claiming that he had done so “as a gesture of professionalism and to open (sic) to door to progressive conversations and (hopefully) positive change”, via his Instagram. Professionalism is important – certainly,
but in what way is condemning hate crimes against your own community unprofessional?
Is accountability not the first step to change – rather than deleting any sort of acknowledgement in the interest of making a white man – who has committed a hate crime more comfortable? Far from Liu being the sole issue, Awkwafina has been called out multiple times for anti-blackness, such as appropriating AAVE (she later dropped what many have called her “blaccent” after her rise to fame) and is now starring alongside Liu in Shang-Chi, a problematic BFF duo for the ages.
People are inherently flawed. The world is rapidly changing, and many people of color have had to do things they are not proud of in order to succeed – even survive.
None of this is to say that Liu and Awkwafina should be “cancelled”, or that Shang-Chi should be boycotted.
Rather, it is to say that the general response to the movie, hailing it as a civil rights milestone, is blown wildly out of proportion and in light of the individual histories of Marvel Studios and Simu Liu, insanely inappropriate. To celebrate Shang-Chi for its artistry, storytelling, or even eye candy is one thing. To claim that this is an enormous step forward for the Asian community is another. Many voices in the community have been saying for years that representation is not everything. However, the likes of Angry Asian Man and Wong Fu productions, both of which have dominated the landscape of Asian-American media, perhaps inadvertently centering the experiences of East Asian-American men above more marginalized voices, would disagree.
Representation is important. But as we celebrate it, it’s critical to reflect on who is representing our community and how it is being represented. After Asian-Americans’ long fight for civil rights, accurate mainstream representation, and general acceptance in society, can we truly not ask for better than culture vultures who would turn their back on their community and beliefs in a heartbeat? Must we really be grateful for the crumbs of approved representation that a historically – and currently, white, male dominated field throws at us?
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!
We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.