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Hearts of Dragons | Maxine Mah

Spoiler Warning - This article contains mild spoilers for “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

On September 3rd, Simu Liu made history as the first Asian lead in a Marvel film.

When the Chinese-Canadian actor was announced to have been cast as Shang-Chi, the lead in Marvel’s most recent movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it was news that was far overdue for the AAPI community. The film, similar to other Marvel features, is an origin story, covering the life of Shang-Chi as he grapples with his father’s oppressive and destructive nature after his mother’s death. His sister, Xialing, portrayed by Meng’er Zhang, also has her own struggles being an Asian woman in the male dominated world of martial arts. She finds herself disregarded and forgotten simply because of her gender alone, not finding the same opportunities as her brother. Shang-Chi’s best friend, Katy, portrayed by Awkwafina, struggles as well with finding herself and her own worth, while her mother reminds her that their family didn’t immigrate to America for nothing. Clearly, not only does the movie bring forward the struggles of Asian families — especially that of a western one — it is also one of the only major blockbuster movies to have a majority Asian cast.

While Shang-Chi itself was an enormous step in the right direction towards the halt of AAPI discrimination, especially in the entertainment industry, it causes many Asian immigrants to ponder how far have we actually come, and how much left do we have to cover?

Being an Asian-American, I would rarely see other Asian-Americans playing lead roles. In fact, the only time I would see an Asian actor would be in the role of a stereotypical Asian “nerd” or “geek”. What’s even more is that East Asian actors like Randall Park have been seen in all different shows and movies as a fill-in character. The “Jimmy Woo” trend on TikTok highlighted this fact when Park was seen everywhere from Fresh Off the Boat to Space Jam. Rather than employing Asian actors that are new to the industry and haven’t been given the chance to star on TV, Hollywood would rather repeat actors to play these “familiar” roles. Not to mention the lack of South Asians or Pacific Islanders, who seemingly have been completely disregarded in the discussion of Asian discrimination. While there have been great strides in the industry with Raya and the Last Dragon or Never Have I Ever, the absence of diversity in entertainment, especially with non-East Asians has never been so profound.

Even on YouTube or Twitch, the people who garner the most popularity are predominantly white, male figures, with the exception of a few like Ryan Higa, LaurDIY, or Pokimane. The lack of AAPI representation on all entertainment platforms is stark and disappointing, especially for younger Asians who grow up with little to no exposure to entertainers who look like them. Furthermore, pursuing the entertainment industry is looked down upon by AAPI families because we have less of a chance to succeed compared to our White or Black counterparts. Take Simu Liu for example: he graduated college with an accounting degree, not even considering acting until after he grew unhappy in finance. He then struggled for years finding bookings, before being given the opportunity to take on Shang-Chi.

This fact has made movies like Crazy Rich Asians or Shang-Chi even more important as casts made up of AAPI actors, some that audiences have never even seen before, are representing Asian culture on the biggest platform in Hollywood. The soundtrack for Shang-Chi is also made up of mainly Asian artists, like 88rising, Jhene Aiko, and Mark Tuan, showing that these doors are not hard to open for Asian music makers. Even though Asian entertainment isn’t new to Western culture, like Korean dramas or Bollywood movies, the prospect of Asian entertainers in Western culture seems completely new. After all, with sales like those of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it would be in the best interest of casting directors to start employing more Asian actors — $150 million and counting clearly isn’t made with pure luck.

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