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Shang-Chi: A Love Letter to the Asian-American Experience

My mother has never been much of a Marvel person.

When I forced her to watch Captain Marvel, she said it was “okay.” When I took her to see Avengers: Endgame, she was disinterested throughout the entire movie and would later tell me that it could have been resolved in an hour instead of three. I shouldn’t be surprised, honestly. Very few movies please my mother.

However, when I brought her to the theaters for the first time since the start of the pandemic to watch Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, her reaction was entirely different to all the other movies I’ve watched with her. Throughout the movie, she laughed and cried and laughed some more, and afterwards, she had this grin on her face, almost contemplative.

Marvel introduced their first Asian superhero lead in Shang-Chi, portrayed by the brilliantly talented Simu Liu, known for Kim’s Convenience on Netflix and newly resurfaced stock images. I digress; obviously, Liu’s emergence in the Marvel franchise is a big deal. Not only was Shang-Chi able to get a seal of approval from my mother, it also carves the way for more diverse superheroes in the future.

As a matter of fact, Simu Liu credited Black Panther with the reason why Shang-Chi’s story was even ever told in cinema.

“It was such a great statement to the powers that be in Hollywood to say: ‘We’re here, and we’ve been here, and we love watching movies that represent us, that represent our faces and our stories and our lives.’ Without the success of Black Panther, I wouldn’t have a job today,” Liu said in an interview for Time Magazine.

This only goes to show that representation in movies works. The success of both Black Panther and Shang-Chi gives room for diversity in more media, and in a huge franchise like Marvel, this is so important.

As an Asian-American, Shang-Chi was a refreshing cultural reset. It depicts Asian-Americans in an honest light - well, maybe I don’t have years of martial arts under my belt or magical rings, but such is life. I think of Shang-Chi as a love letter from Asian-Americans to the Asian-American experience. That’s not to say that the movie is only for Asians, but it truly drives an impact when I find references to aspects of my own life that I rarely find anywhere else. I also don’t wish to generalize all Asian-Americans, which is why Shang-Chi needs to be the first of many movies depicting Asians as strong leads in order to give everyone a chance to see a part of themselves on the big screen.

And so, this weekend, I’m watching Shang-Chi again. I’m watching it for all the years I’ve spent without a doll that looks like me, all the time I’ve spent without a person that looks like me on television, all the time I’ve spent without a face that looks like mine to look up to.

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