‘Shang-Chi’ Star Simu Liu Credits Film’s Diverse Production Team For Authenticity

Simu Liu – who plays the lead role of Marvel’s Asian superhero Shang-Chi in the upcoming ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ film – said that when it comes to amplifying stories of marginalized communities, representation behind the camera is just as important as on screen.

Liu told NBC Asian America that his experience filming the action movie showed him that open communication with writers and producers was “really all it takes” to ensure a film’s authenticity. so ingrained in Asian and Asian American culture.

“There’s no need to get defensive about it,” Liu said. “There’s no need to panic or act like you know the answer when you don’t, because you have such a wonderful cast of actors and actresses and incredibly talented directors and writers who are all capable of contributing, if you could just give them the opportunity, and I think on this film, we absolutely had that opportunity.

The actor said director Destin Daniel Cretton and screenwriter Dave Callaham, who are both Asian Americans, were receptive to his comments, as well as the perspectives of Awkwafina, who plays the ride-gold friend -die of Shang-Chi, Katy, and Ronny Chieng, who plays Jon Jon, a kind of club promoter.

“[It] all had a direct impact on how our story was told and allowed it to be told with the level of nuance and authenticity that it was,” he said.

Liu also said it’s important for non-Asians working on movies and TV shows to ask questions.

“Having the humility, to differ and say, ‘We don’t necessarily know the answer, and we need you to help us,’ I think that was so important for us to be able to provide our thoughts, our perspectives on the story,” Liu said.

From left to right, Meng’er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios

Cretton said the actors’ input helped shape their characters. For example, through dialogue differences, the film makes distinctions between Asian and Asian American characters, such as Katy, a born and raised San Franciscan; Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, an underground fighter left behind in Asia, played by Meng’er Zhang; and, of course, Shang-Chi, who inhabits the in-between of these two worlds.

“What really helped us define these different backgrounds for these characters was casting actors who completely understood their characters…and seeing who really understands what it means to have a foothold in Western culture and a still have a foothold in Chinese culture,” Cretton said. . “Awkwafina truly understands what it means to be an Asian American. Once we were backstage with Tony Leung and [Zhang], it was a constant education about the differences between mainland Chinese and Chinese Americans.

Liu, who starred in the Canadian sitcom “Kim’s Convenience,” has previously spoken about what’s going on with the lack of representation in writers’ rooms and behind the camera. In a since-deleted Facebook post in June, he called out the lack of East Asian writers on the show and its reluctance to accept creative input from Asian talent.

He also made headlines for alleging that the show’s main Asian cast members were paid a “poop rate”. While the main cast traditionally get more information at the start of seasons, “that wasn’t the case on our show.”

Research has shown that Hollywood portrayals of Asian Americans have suffered from a lack of proper representation behind the camera.

In one Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study at the University of Southern California released this year, researchers assessed portrayals of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community by examining 79 primary and secondary AAPI characters from the top films of 2019.

They found that most of the characters fell into the stereotypical categories of “silenced, stereotyped, tokenized, isolated, and sidekicks/villains.” Other tropes, including the emasculation of Asian men, also remained, with 58% of Asian men shown without a romantic partner. About 38% of Asian women, on the other hand, were similarly portrayed.

Films with AAPI directors or producers, however, led to different results for those in front of the camera. The study showed that these films had more AAPI leads than those that did not, and that AAPI directors and casting directors hired more AAPI actors in speaking roles than non-Asian directors and casting directors. .

Marvel has previously come under fire for the studio’s handling of Asian characters and storylines. When Marvel cast Tilda Swinton, a white actress, as The Ancient One in the 2016 film “Doctor Strange,” Asian Americans pushed back. They pointed out that in the source material the character is a Tibetan male and called it another example of Hollywood whitewashing of Asian characters. Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios told men’s health in May that with hindsight, he regrets his decision.

“We thought we were so smart and so forward thinking,” Feige said at the time. “We’re not going to do the shriveled, old, wise Asian cliché. But it was a wake-up call to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, is there any other way to figure it out? Is there another way not to fall into the cliché and to choose an Asian actor at the same time? And the answer to that, of course, is yes.