Yesterday, Deadline broke the news that Shang-Chi is in the works. It’s set to be the first of its kind. A superhero movie franchise with an Asian protagonist written by a Chinese-American—Dave Callaham, whose credentials include co-writing the sequel to DC Warner Bros hit Wonder Woman with Patty Jenkins. He’s also already on tap to write Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2. Marvel hasn’t picked a director yet, but Deadline suggests they would like to hire an Asian or Asian-American.
The news is a breath of fresh air for Marvel Studios, and needed damage control after some of their more controversial decisions. The studio managed to avoid using the problematic depiction of the Iron Man villain, The Mandarin. Then they took two steps back when they cast Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in 2016’s Doctor Strange. The announcement, and the trailer that followed sparked outrage online. The only Asian character in a movie steeped in Asian iconography was Wong, which further frustrated some fans.
Then there was the more complicated controversy surrounding Marvel’s Iron Fist. When the Netflix series went into development in the fall of 2013, fans immediately campaigned online for an Asian lead. Danny Rand is white in the comics and some would argue his race was an integral part of the character and his motivations. The campaign sparked debates on message boards and Twitter all the way up to 2016 when Marvel cast Finn Jones.
It was hard not to empathize with the disappointment, and in some cases anger, some fans felt. Marvel essentially told them again a character can appropriate Asian culture, but they can’t be Asian. Danny’s origin is based on a trope that’s complicated at best, but I could understand why they were upset them. The series eventually premiered to less than favorable reviews. Ironically, fans seemed to gravitate to Jessica Henwick’s portrayal of Colleen Wing.
Shang Chi’s first appearance
Shang-Chi won’t erase those missteps, but it has the chance to create some goodwill with fans Marvel may have alienated. This is a chance to answer the call for representation, already being reflected in comics and other genres. Some cynics will inevitably see this as a ploy following the success of Black Panther. Regardless, there is a whole community of fans eager to support something like Shang-Chi and more roles for Asian characters.
Shang-Chi, created by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15. The character was initially a response to the popularity of Enter the Dragon and the Kung Fu TV series, which Marvel attempted to acquire the rights to adapt in 1973. There are obviously some dated stereotypes surrounding the character’s origin that will need to be ironed out but there is undeniable potential here.