Warning — There may be spoilers to the film, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in this article.
A move like “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was long overdue for the Asian and Asian American community, who have been reduced to stereotypes in movies for decades.
The movie, Marvel’s latest release, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first movie to have an Asian character take center stage as the film’s main hero. In doing this, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” breaks some of the traditional archetypes for Asian characters.
A centuries-old stereotype of Asian men was that they are effeminate, weak or passive. Modern media portrayals of East and South Asian men were of geeks and awkward nerds.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were portrayals of one-dimensional martial artists that were mystical and stoic, also playing into the trope of Orientalism.
Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a departure from that, in an attempt to portray a representative superhero with a complex range of character traits and emotions — a departure that is overdue.
Another stereotype, this time for Asian women, was that they existed within the dichotomy of being submissive, exotic and dainty, or being unfeeling and stoic “dragon ladies.”
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Another principle, known as “yellow peril,” is the idea that Asian Americans were fundamentally un-American and unfit to be part of American democratic society, linking Asian Americans with moral depravity.
The idea that they are eternal foreigners, and therefore dangerous, led to instances of anti-Asian legislation, like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which set a precedence for severely limiting Asian immigration to the U.S. for the next century.
The media’s continual portrayal of Asian American’s in this fashion is a contributing factor towards anti-Asian hate and violence.
The lack of positive representation in the media is impactful towards generations of young people. The response from many Asian American students on campus was that this movie was a refreshing break from past depictions and hopefully a step towards even more multi-dimensional, varied and interesting Asian characters in the future.
Ivan Xiong, a junior who identifies and Hmong American said that he particularly found the contributions of the character Katy, played by Awkwafina, to be a “vital addition” to the movie.
To him, her character represented the what its like to be Asian American.
“[being Asian American] is a unique experience, feeling torn between two communities — your heritage raises you at home, but you [also] grow up in American culture,” Xiong said.
Xiong added that Katy’s character and her self-acceptance provided an “extremely powerful message for just the right audience.”
Anita Anongdeth, a junior who identifies as Laotian American said that alongside the protagonists, she enjoyed the presence of “powerful Asian women” with complex personalities and motivations.
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“They weren’t just seen as some submissive sex figure or anything … or the really hardcore [characters] that don’t have feelings … but rather as whole humans,” Anongdeth said.
Anongdeth also commented on the conscious choice for directors to add in Asian background characters.
“I think I flipped my shit over that because even in any sort of movies, you don’t have people of color as background characters either … and so it was conscious that they were put in there,” Anongdeth said.
Sam Yang, a junior who identifies as Taiwanese American, made comparisons between “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and an earlier film featuring a prominent Asian cast, “Crazy Rich Asians.”
“Although “Crazy Rich Asians” came out before “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” it was super cool to see an Asian cast in a much different setting, one that appeals to a wider audience,” Yang said.
Yang said that another appealing aspect of this film was that she didn’t feel that characters were exoticized, and were simply “people living their lives and kicking ass.”
“I got to see regular Asians and magical Asians on screen doing amazing things and it made me proud of my background in a way that I never was,” Yang said.