Asian-Americans celebrate Shang-Chi but Asia notes its orientalism and stereotypes

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Last week, the trailer for Marvel’s latest superhero flick dropped. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is suppose to be the studio’s first Asian-lead superhero, a milestone moment for Asian representation in Hollywood.

Already Asian-American actors and actresses are celebrating the moment for its significance. But while Asians stateside celebrate the trailer, critics across Asia are pointing out the racism and stereotypes already apparent in the trailer.

Chine state-newspaper The Global Times reported on the orientalist tropes in the trailer including “scenes featuring characters doing kung fu in traditional Chinese attire” and noting that the Chinese market appeared less excited. 

According to the Global Times, the film is being met with accusations of racism on Chinese social media.

“As I said when Marvel announced the casting — who they pick already said: Hollywood will never change its stereotype of Asians, slanted eyes,” reads one comment.

“After seeing a hodgepodge of Japanese ninja, US skyscrapers, gangs and Chinese ancient swordsmen, my brain turned to mush,” another net user said, according to the paper.

Let us not forget that Shang-Chi started out as the brainchild of three white American comic writers, Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, and Sax Rohmer – ones that do not understand the cultural intricacies and diversity that is Asia.

Heck, for decades Shang-chi’s arch nemesis was named Fu Manchu, an evil sorceress threatening to corrupt western nations with orientalist values.

Even Marvel was smart enough on that count to replace Fu Manchu with a different Asian villain with a less offensive name. What’s the name you ask? Oh he’s called the Mandarin.

Critics have also picked up on the familiar Asian tropes found in the trailer that Hollywood likes to employ when making films about Asia.

There is the familiar ancient and mysterious backstory filled with filial piety, family honor, and redemption that must be present in every Hollywood-made Asian martial arts flick.

Others have noted that of course the Asian superhero cannot have real super powers but must be a great martial artist that knows karate and kung fu to fight alongside the likes of Ironman, Ant Man, The Hulk with their much more superior intellects.

For a continent that has produced the likes of Jackie Chan, Tony Ja, Donnie Yen and so many more martial artists, the film is nothing bold or dazzling and does not speak to the modern sensibilities of cosmopolitan Asia.

Rather it is rooted in what white America thinks of Asia – a vision that is completely out-of-date and probably never existed.

Until Hollywood actually engages with and employs real Asians on stories that matter to Asia, then films like these will continue to not resonate outside of the Asian-American/Hollywood bubble.


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