Marvel Studios introduced their newest superhero in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” released on Sept. 3. The film features Shang-Chi, the first Asian-American superhero to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The film intertwines action, humor and culture as Shang-Chi traces his family roots and faces issues from his past.
Dr. Melissa Croteau, professor of film studies, said that the film is unique compared to many other superhero movies because it showcases pan-East Asian culture.
“It did a good job at tapping into the deeper roots that a story like that can have in regards to culture,” Croteau said. “It is what ‘Black Panther’ was able to do, but what not a lot of others have been able to do, by using a created mythology to get at very real-world issues.”
“Black Panther,” released in 2018, explored African roots and culture in ways similar to how “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” incorporates East Asian culture. Croteau said the success of “Black Panther” displayed that superhero films focusing on culture can succeed on a global scale and paved the way for films exploring different cultural identities.
Croteau said that bringing more diversity into major film franchises such as those in the MCU can lead to a reduction in harmful stereotypes, especially during a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased. She also said the film has the potential to introduce people to the diversity within pan-East Asian culture.
“People seeing Asian representation on screen in a way that imbues the cultural image that we have,” Croteau said. “There are a lot of stereotypes, and there always have been. When you walk into a theater and see a superhero film and you see that person has an Asian identity, I think that has the potential to hopefully shift people’s perspective in a positive direction regarding Asian American identity.”
Destin Daniel Cretton directed “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Croteau said that having a director who reflects the cultural identity of the hero in the film set it apart.
“All different types of people could have been making larger films all along,” Croteau said. “All this time, all these people could have been directing meaningful stories on a larger stage and were not allowed to.”
Miguel Esparza, sophomore photography major, said he enjoyed the movie from both a visual and cultural standpoint. As someone who is not a member of the Asian-American community, he felt that the film positively shared the culture.
“It was visually stunning and the choreographed fight scenes were beautifully done,” Esparza said. “I think that, culturally, ‘Shang-Chi’ felt authentic. It gave me a positive impression of the beauty of Chinese culture, especially in the movie’s slower expository moments.”
Croteau said that this movie was also unique because it showcased geographical locations less common in film such as Macau, which serves as a melting pot for East Asian culture.
“They did a great job, especially since they focused the film on Chinese culture,” said Taylor Farr, junior communication sciences and disorders major. “Seeing the different locations in the film set it apart from other Marvel movies I have seen.”
Croteau said that “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” can not only counteract stereotypes but also serve as an inspiration for East Asian American viewers.
“There is a lot of research that says representation on screen, big or small, matters a great deal,” Croteau said. “I think it is invaluable to see yourself being represented as someone who can overcome adversity and is recognized by others as having a certain amount of dignity and strength. It is not always something you can quantify, but it changes the way people see themselves.”
Croteau said she hopes this film, along with others like “Black Panther” will continue to shift the film industry toward more diversity.
“What I would like to see is more,” Croteau said. “We know that all these different voices can make amazing films. Studio heads just have to recognize the value of that.”
During the four-day Labor Day weekend, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” made $94 million at the box office. Marvel Studios plans to release “Eternals” on Nov. 5 and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” on Dec. 17.