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With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings set to come out later this year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will finally welcome its first Asian movie lead in Simu Liu's titular hero. (though its worth noting Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. featured Chloe Bennett as the comic hero Quake alongside Ming-Na Wen's Agent Melinda May on television years ago.)
However, when it comes to matters of Asian representation in film, the MCU has previously come under fire, most famously for the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in 2016's Doctor Strange, a move that saw Swinton, a white actress, step into a role that was originally a Tibetan man in the comics. But now in a recent interview with Men's Health, Marvel President Kevin Feige acknowledges that the issue could have been handled better.
"We thought we were being so smart, and so cutting-edge," Feige says of the decision, which was made to sidestep some of the orientalism and racist aspects of the source material. "We’re not going to do the cliché of the wizened, old, wise Asian man. But it was a wake-up call to say, 'Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there any other way to both not fall into the cliché and cast an Asian actor?' And the answer to that, of course, is yes."
Of course, as some fans pointed out five years ago when the issue came up, one solution for dealing with the problematic aspects of the comics themselves would have been to cast an Asian actor in the lead role of Stephen Strange, which would have made the Ancient One less of the cliché Feige was trying to avoid, as it would then become a tale of an Asian American learning how to wield magic from a fellow Asian magic-user. (One popular casting suggestion led to the viral hashtag #StarringJohnCho, which cast the Searching actor as the character currently played by Benedict Cumberbatch.)
But now, with Shang-Chi and its largely Asian cast, the MCU has the chance to course-correct as it moves forward into Phase 4, which is set to bring a lot more inclusivity into its wider universe, as WandaVision's Monica Rambeau is set to join Captain Marvel 2 (AKA The Marvels) and Ms. Marvel will be getting her own show before also embiggening jumping to the big screen.
And as Feige mentions in his interview, there is a lot more room for obscure characters on-screen too, which helps when it comes to trying to make the MCU more diverse, as was proved with the Guardians of the Galaxy, which proved to be a hit with fans — enough so that they'll return for their third instalment in Guardians of the Galaxy 3, following an appearance in Thor: Love and Thunder.
"That sort of proved early on that it wasn't about how famous the character was, but about how great their potential was for becoming a cool movie, or series of movies," Feige says about previous comic book movies like X-Men and Blade, as many moviegoers hadn't even realised the latter was based on a comic series. "And Shang-Chi has had that potential for so long."
He also added that adapting Shang-Chi had been a plan of his for a long time, however, in the lead up to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, there had simply been no time, especially with the number of characters the films had to service.
"Once we finished what we call now The Infinity Saga, we rolled up our sleeves and said, 'OK, what's next?' What are we going to kick off the next?" continues Feige. "The next sort of evolution of the MCU post our first big saga, and that's why Shang-Chi was at the very top of that list... It’s about having a foot in both worlds... In the North American world and in China. And Simu fits that quite well."
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings flies into theaters on Sept 3.