Marvel’s Mistreatment of Shang-Chi


Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi could have been a hit. A thirst for profits is stopping it.

    Many consider Marvel to be an unstoppable force of cinema. Though the plots are formulaic and the characters underdeveloped, Marvel has more than proved itself as a cultural staple. From record-breaking box office openings, to more merchandise than one can imagine, it’s influence is apparent. Recently, a new addition to the MCU opened at the box office. What was this movie called? 

   Though the title of this article may have given it away, many people, if asked this question, would not know the answer: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Though Shang-Chi had a $71.4 million opening weekend, the months before were rife with poor promotion and controversy, both of which arose from and now feed into the rising prejudice against Asian-Americans. 

Before Marvel green-lit the cinematic production of Shang-Chi, there was controversy surrounding its source material. The comic’s conception was especially outdated, as ScreenRant states that Shang-Chi was “created to capitalize upon the growing popularity of martial arts movies in the United States.” The character of Shang-Chi and the comic itself were also outdated, cliched portrayals of Asians. Yellow peril, or the depiction of Asians as inhuman monsters, was prevalent in the series. 

    Despite its racist origins, many were excited to see Marvel’s first superhero movie with an Asian lead and a majority-Asian cast. Anticipation in the Asian-American community only grew when the director revealed he had made a list of Asian stereotypes he planned on dismantling. 

    However, the promotion of Shang-Chi was underwhelming despite its historical representation. The only place many saw the film being promoted was on leading actor Simu Liu’s social media. Many noticed that larger scale promotion, such as social media campaigns, cast interviews, and other advertisements were nonexistent. I would argue that the controversy stirred by the lack of promotion did more to promote Shang-Chi than Marvel.

    Shang-Chi had an astoundingly successful debut for its decidedly minimalistic marketing campaign, but a discussion still needs to be held about Marvel’s intentions, their actions and the repercussions. The intent isn’t as simple as increased prejudice against Asian-Americans, though it played a major part. Disney originally postponed its release because the Chinese government labeled the movie as a Westerner’s stereotype of Chinese people, so they couldn’t secure a release date. Then, the Scarlett Johannson and Disney+ legal fiasco occurred.

    Both of these events were not the root of Shang-Chi’s lackluster promotion, as one should bear in mind the original release date was in February of 2021, way before these incidents occurred.    Nonetheless, Marvel decided to approach these setbacks by doubling down on a disappointingly bad release strategy to prevent further losses and controversy. This is how Shang-Chi became Marvel’s guinea pig in the movie studio’s first-ever 45-day theatrical release. This strategy could effectively bomb Shang-Chi’s overall sales and the studio executives know this, but they would rather avoid another lawsuit and want to profit off of Disney+. 

    Bombing this movie could deter the multiple benefits Shang-Chi has to offer. Socially, the movie would give representation to a misrepresented minority. Historically, the movie could break records and was Marvel’s first Asian-led movie. Even from a monetary standpoint, the right decision is the best decision to make, as this new film will attract millions of new fans, which provides opportunities for merchandise, sequels, and spin-offs. 

    This bad promotion could detract the fans who need to see this movie the most. In a political and social climate where degrading Asian-Americans was socially tolerable before COVID-19 intensified it’s severity, Shang-Chi could give an oppressed community a figure of hope, strength, and tenacity. If Marvel continues to sabotage Shang-Chi in the name of a quick profit, they will be on the wrong side of history, a side they seem apathetic to being on.