This morning, our friends at MCU Exchange (with help from The Hashtag Show) broke some pretty big news: mainly, that Shang-Chi will be a featured part of the Iron Fist series on Netflix, with the possibility that he may get spun off into his own series! This is definitely some welcome news, especially considering how a lot of folk reacted to the news of Finn Jones. In fact, I can already hear the FistBros1 queuing up in our mentions telling us to finally shut up about #AAIronFist.
Let me get this out of the way first. This news is really exciting. My hope is that the showrunners will play up the whole international spy aspect of his character. That Bruce Lee from Enter the Dragon crossed with classic James Bond — or contemporary Jason Bourne — is what can really set him apart in the MCU. Also, I really hope to god they give him a pair of shoes!
Here’s the thing, though: just because Shang-Chi will be on the show doesn’t mean all of the points about Asian American representation, cultural appropriation, and Hollywood’s history of whitewashing and icky Orientalism magically go away. If the vitriol on twitter — and elsewhere — that I’ve been receiving since December is any indication, Shang-Chi’s presence will not suddenly open the eyes of fanboys to the need for more and better representation on television. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum here, but you can read more about what I said to Alex Jung at Vulture, if you want.
It’s heartening to hear that Marvel is looking at Asian2 actors for the role, but the real question is what kind of role will they be auditioning for? One of the main reasons I’ve been pushing hard for an Asian American Danny Rand was because of the traits his character possesses (he’s sexy, funny, flawed, etc.). These are not ones that are often attributed to Asian American characters. Like, if Shang-Chi is stoic and silent, or god forbid, has to put on a fake accent, I’m not sure how much progress it is, really.
Also, one of the counterarguments to making Danny Asian American essentially boiled down to “oh no Asians and martial arts = racist!” In the same breath, those same folks would say “you should push for Shang-Chi, instead.” Talk about cognitive dissonance! Like, I’ve already bunked the “Asian martial artist = stereotype” line of reasoning, but if you think Asian Danny is a problem because of martial arts, then why is Shang-Chi okay? Could it be it’s because people like to conflate Asian Americans and Asians?
That’s the other thing the whole #AAIronFist discussion has illuminated for me: just how little people are willing to understand about being Asian American.
The responses to those talking about the Iron Fist casting shows how little people care to understand the AAPI experience.—
Jon Tsuei (@jontsuei) February 25, 2016
People forget, but the main reason I wrote the initial post (almost two years ago to the date, natch) was because I wanted to see, for once, an Asian American play a heroic lead in a superhero property. Here’s hoping that Netflix will go with the Ultimate Comics origin of Shang-Chi and make him an immigrant living in Chinatown, but for all intents and purposes, Shang-Chi is foreign-born, and one stereotype that Asian Americans everywhere must contend with is the notion that we are all perpetual foreigners. Anyone who has ever been asked “where are you really from” know what I’m talking about.
So depending on how the character is written, I’m not sold that Shang Chi’s addition is necessarily a boon for Asian American representation just yet. Let’s see if Colleen Wing will be on the show. Let’s see if Lei Kung gets to be more than the wise old mentor. Let’s see if Davos is 1.) Asian and 2.) gets to be more than a generic bad guy.
An easy way to avoid token-ism? Have more than one. Have 3+, make them all different & have them carry 50% of the dialogue. Not so hard.—
Constance Wu (@ConstanceWu) March 04, 2016
Bottom line: Shang-Chi’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not an automatic win for diversity and inclusion. There are still many factors to consider before that happens. It also doesn’t mean I’m okay with Finn Jones as Danny. If anything, Shang-Chi’s inclusion on the show highlights the fact that he and Danny are completely different characters. Why both of them couldn’t be Asian just proves Aziz Ansari’s one-at-a-time rule for Hollywood.
Especially since Hell’s Kitchen will now have two white boy kung fu experts.