How many of you saw Crazy Rich Asians? After you thought about how great of a movie it was, did you also think – what’s next for Asian-American entertainment? Well, you are not alone. Many in the Asian-American community, including myself, also wondered the same thing, but I may have found the answer!
What types of movies seem to dominate the Hollywood landscape? How can we build on the success of Crazy Rich Asians? There is one clear answer:
Super. Hero. Movies.
In early December, Marvel announced it will begin production of an Asian martial arts superhero film called Shang Chi, based on the popular comic book series of the same namesake (https://www.polygon.com/2018/12/3/18124176/marvel-shang-chi-movie-first-asian-superhero). This follows the success of Black Panther within the African and African-American communities with hopes this movie will appeal to Asian-Americans in the same way. This film adaptation of Shang Chi brings to light key topics in entertainment industry for the Asian-American community.
During the martial arts movie craze of the 1970’s, Marvel, hoping to tap into some of that success, created the comic, Shang Chi, which featured a martial artist as the hero. Since the original debut of Shang Chi, the character has appeared sporadically throughout the Marvel Universe, but is now about to become front and center. To make sure that this movie is done right, Marvel hired the Chinese-American screenwriter, Dave Callaham, to adapt the comic series for film. He is best known for The Expendables and the 1984 Wonder Woman. What is even more interesting is that they are looking for an Asian-American director to really capture the cultural nuances that they want to be represented within the film. We can only assume that with an Asian-American writer and director that there is the intent to have an Asian-American dominated cast.
White-Washing in Hollywood
This is groundbreaking because Hollywood has a knack for “White-washing” in the entertainment industry. Some familiar examples are the casting of Scarlett Johansen as lead in the film Ghost in the Shell, Emile Hirsch in Speedracer, and Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow, all of which are films adapted from Japanese creations. A recent study conducted by the University of Southern California found that just 28.3% of all speaking characters in entertainment were from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. It even goes so far to state that Asian-Americans, in particular, were nearly invisible, with “at least half of movies and tv shows failing to portray one speaking or named Asian American on screen.” Hopefully, with the recent success of underrepresented minorities in film, Marvel’s Shang Chi will help lead the charge into the future and growth of Asian-American entertainment.
Growth of Asian American Entertainment
This movie will not be the first but will add to the growing arsenal of popular Asian-American entertainment following titles like Crazy Rich Asians, Master of None, and even Fresh off the boat. In July of this year, Sandra Oh made history as the first Asian woman nominated for an Emmy in the lead actress category. We are also seeing a growth with viewers, as Asian-Americans actually go to movie theaters more often than non-Hispanic whites, 23% more often in fact. What does all of this growth in entertainment mean for the Asian-American community at large?
What this means for the Asian American Community
With this growth, we are now not just only starting to see a shift in Hollywood, but in the entire entertainment industry. “Americans are choosing to watch shows with multicultural casts.” The American public wants to see more diversity and talent that is representative of all ethnicities. This could also be indicative of how Americans want to be marketed to. Showcasing diversity in commercials and advertising could prove to be more successful in the general market. Nielsen reports support this by showing that Asian-American actors and actresses score significantly above the norm for likeability. The data doesn’t lie! It seems as if the general public is beginning to shift their preferences and are the ones helping drive that shift in Hollywood as well.
Shang Chi will be an important film for the growth of Asian-American entertainment and it will be very interesting to see a Marvel film featuring an Asian superhero. Hopefully we will see a balance in authentic Asian cultural nuances without any stereotyping or appropriation, and, at a minimum, some great martial arts!