Marvel Announces First Asian Superhero With ‘Shang-Chi’ Franchise, Setting Stage For Diverse Phase 4

Either it’s Marvel trying to steal DC’s thunder from a few days ago after announcing their first Latino superhero film or it’s just coincidence. But regardless of the reasons, we have another reason to celebrate superhero films. Marvel has announced it’s spearheading a new franchise, their first Asian superhero film franchise based around “Master of Kung Fu” character Shang-Chi.

To be honest, I don’t know anything about Shang-Chi, so to fill me and you in, here’s what Marvel has to say about the character.

Shang-Chi is the son of an internationally-renowned and powerful criminal mastermind. His childhood was a lonely one, full of constant training in rigorous mental and martial arts and with only limited contact with his parents.

Finally, the day had come. While still a teen, he was given his first mission outside the walls of his father’s retreat in Honan, China. He was to assassinate his father’s enemy. As he knew nothing but that his father was a great humanitarian and savior of mankind, Shang-Chi felt nothing short of unquestioning loyalty. He stole into his victim’s home in Mayfair, London, and delivered his killing strike! Almost immediately, he was confronted by another of his father’s enemies, Sir Denis Nayland Smith, who told Shang-Chi the truth about his father’s evil deeds. Shang-Chi’s mastery of kung-fu enabled him to escape, but he sought out his mother, who confessed the truth as well. Shang-Chi, finally aware of his father’s manipulations, declared himself to be his father’s mortal enemy, devoting his life to the overthrow of his criminal empire.

Shang-Chi became a regular ally of Sir Denis Nayland Smith and worked with him on missions for MI-6, British intelligence, and later for Freelance Restorations, Smith’s own independent agency.

I read on Twitter that the character is a send-up to Bruce Lee, and I’d say that’s very true, since the origin story of Shang-Chi sounds exactly like something a Bruce Lee character would be involved in. It also is important to know that Shang-Chi was created in 1972 and debuted in 1973; sadly, 1973 is the year Bruce Lee died, so it does seem like the character came at the right time to fill the void left by Lee after his sudden death. Of course, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Shang-Chi was “created by Steve Englehart and Thanos creator Jim Starlin after an attempt to acquire the comic book rights to the television series Kung Fu fell through.” To me, Shang-Chi seems to act as a way to pay homage to a person who changed American culture so much and so quickly. As The Hollywood Reporter’s Richard Newby wrote in his analysis of the potential power of Shang-Chi, “Shang-Chi proved to be popular, largely because of the increased distribution of kung fu movies in American cinemas. Modeled after Bruce Lee, Shang-Chi became an unofficial means to continue the legacy of the martial arts icon.” Even Shang-Chi’s red and black jumpsuit is just another version of Lee’s yellow and black jumpsuit from Game of Death.

Let’s get into some other particulars you need to know about the upcoming film franchise. Thankfully, Marvel is keeping with what they’ve learned with Black Panther and are hiring creatives who are of the same race as their main character. According to The Hollywood Reporter, David Callaham, the writer of Wonder Woman 1984, has been hired to write the Shang-Chi script. Callaham, who is Chinese-American, can do a lot for this script; according to Wikipedia, Callaham is a Brown Belt in 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu (called “a non-traditional system of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu developed by Eddie Bravo” that is “the first Jiu-Jitsu school systems to not use a gi”).

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Now, of course, just because someone is non-white, it doesn’t always mean the person will make the right decisions (because us Black people have to contend with Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson, Candace Owens, and the villain of villains, Omarosa Manigault, for example). I also don’t know anything about Callaham, if I’m being totally honest, so that’s why I write the above statement. However, hopefully Callaham’s personal experiences will bring Shang-Chi away from a potentially racially-explosive place, because according to the origins, Shang-Chi is the son of none other than racial stereotype Fu Manchu. For something like this, we need an extremely deft hand.

Newby touched on the necessity for careful writing with characters who were treated through a problematic lens.

“Despite a dated history, Shang-Chi has evolved over the decades, though intermittently used and his evolution hasn’t taken him as far as it should have. While his powers have evolved beyond kung fu mastery to the ability to create duplicates of himself, and he’s helped heroes like Spider-Man refine their skillsets, and even joined the Avengers for a time, he still feels like something of a relic belonging to just a screen over from Blaxploitation films,” Newby wrote. “Marvel was able to re-envision a character with a similar dated appeal with Luke Cage on Netflix…[T]his series further eliminated some of the thug-life tropes that made him a black folk hero for our modern times, placing him within the context of contemporary race relations rather than the fantasy just outside of it.”

The same kind of deft hand was needed for Black Panther, seeing how the character can quickly go into (and has) blaxploitation territory. But thankfully, Marvel hired Ryan Coogler to write and direct, resulting in one of the best films of 2018. Marvel wants to repeat this success by not only getting Shang-Chi, but by making their entire Phase 4 focused more so on diverse superheroes. Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson gave a big reason as to why.

“It’s worth noting, before we dive into the particulars, that the future of Marvel looks very different now that the studio has shaken free of its eccentric and, by all reports, backwards-looking C.E.O., Ike Perlmutter,” she wrote. “Perlmutter was allegedly the reason Marvel was, for so long, seemingly resistant to films that didn’t center on white, male heroes. But all that is about to change in a post-Black Panther world.”

As Robinson reported in 2015, Perlmutter’s racism was allegedly a part of the decision to hire Don Cheadle to replace Terrence Howard as Rhodey because, as he allegedly told the chairman of Disney consumer products Andy Mooney, no one would notice the difference between the two actors because black people “look the same.”

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“Mooney has since left, reportedly over conflicts with Perlmutter, and he was quickly followed out the door by three African-American female executives who have since sought settlements.” Also, as Robinson cites from Birth. Movies. Death, Perlmutter also sought to keep gender lines intact when marketing Avengers toys, including the lack of Black Widow toys. Also, according to Birth. Movies. Death, Marvel also got rid of its Creative Committee, a group of execs that kept Marvel films in the dark ages.

The Creative Committee, the site wrote, was made up of “Alan Fine, who came with Perlmutter to Marvel through [toy company] Toy Biz, Brian Michael Bendis, who is a prolific Marvel Comics writer, Dan Buckley, publisher of Marvel Comics and Joe Quesada, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and the current Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Enterprises.” The site states that this group was responsible for causing the rift between Edgar Wright and even Joss Whedon.

Now that Kevin Feige has total control and Perlmutter and the Creative Committee’s decisions are now out of the pipeline (something that took years), we might be finally able to see some of what Feige does all on his own. Some of what we can expect, according to Robinson:

• Black Panther 2

• Doctor Strange 2 (which co-stars Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor)

• Spider-Man: Far From Home (a film that includes a very diverse Queens as well as diverse friends for Peter Parker)

Black Widow prequel (directed by Cate Shortland)

• The Eternals (which will be directed by Chloé Zhao)

• Guardians of the Galaxy 3 (which could feature Zoe Saldana, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista and Vin Diesel if they decide to come back after James Gunn’s unexpected firing)

• Captain Marvel 2

• Ms. Marvel

A Ms Marvel film is something I’m especially excited about. No doubt it will take years for us to see it, seeing how many films are in the pipeline. But the fact that Marvel is actively preparing to bring Kamala Khan to the big screen is amazing to me. As much as I hate Thanos and Infinity War, I think that perhaps this whole Thanos thing is acting as a reboot–not just for the franchise as a whole, but for the entire Marvel ideology now that the company can officially wash away the old and bring in the new. We’ve just gotten the trailer for Captain Marvel (which I will have my reaction to very soon), meaning we are finally seeing the first moments of a brand new day at Marvel. Now that we know about Shang-Chi, Marvel is showing that they are prepared not to hold back on bringing fun inclusion to the box office.