Shang-Chi Breaks Marvel’s Racial Barriers


On Friday, September 3, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was released to theaters. Out of the twenty-five movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is the first movie with an Asian director and a predominantly Asian cast. 

The movie begins with Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, working as a valet with his friend Katy, played by Awkwafina. The plotline’s focal point is the ancient, mystical artifact called the ‘Ten Rings,’ which is in Shang Chi’s father’s possession and gives him incredible power. Rather than inherit these rings, Shang-Chi chose to run away to San Francisco. Eventually, his past catches up to him and he must do whatever it takes to stop his father from unleashing evil onto the world. 

This movie is refreshingly free from the half-hearted romance that is typical of Marvel movies, and focuses instead on a compelling, history-driven plot. 

Many wonder if Marvel has been able to overcome the racist stereotyping from the Shang-Chi comics, especially since Marvel has a history of using culturally inaccurate stereotypes. When the comics were written, anti-Asian sentiment ran rampant throughout the US and was evident in mainstream media. Sax Rohmer, the original creator of the Shang-Chi comics, wrote a character named Fu Manchu who he called “the yellow peril incarnate.” In the movie, Fu Manchu was replaced with a more complex and human character. 

Shang-Chi was the first Marvel movie to only be released in theaters since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, Shang-Chi has been minimally advertised compared to other Marvel movies. Many fans attribute this lack of marketing to racism inside Marvel, pointing out that the person leading movie promotion was the star actor, Liu. 

In China, Shang-Chi has yet to be released, despite the country typically being responsible for up to 20 percent of Marvel’s ticket sales. Some suspect that the Chinese government won’t support the movie because of its racist history, while others argue that China is purely boycotting the American-made movie due to bad relations between the countries. 

Though made with a low budget by Marvel standards, the film was well done and the characters’ relationships felt authentic. 

Despite the predominantly Asian cast, Shang-Chi still follows Marvel’s pattern of focusing on male characters, with female characters only playing supporting roles. Marvel would do well to have more diverse directors and more female and gender-nonconforming heroes. Shang-Chi is a refreshing change, but Marvel still has work to do.