Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduced the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Asian superhero, tearing away from the traditional clichéd depictions of Asians in the media. This breakthrough comes just a few years after the first all-Asian rom com to make it in the mainstream media, Crazy Rich Asians. Asian Americans have celebrated these new movies. I even have an Asian American friend who bought out a theater in her predominantly white hometown to share the movie with her community. Meanwhile, much of white America has reacted to this passion with head scratches, not understanding why these movies are so meaningful to the Asian community. One answer lies in a phrase that may sound overused but holds a lot of meaning: Representation matters.
Society tends to uphold a myopic view of its minority members, interpreting people through a lens of stereotypes rather than as nuanced individuals. The media traditionally perpetuates these stereotypes, for example casting East Asians most often as scientists, doctors, or kung-fu underdogs to be rescued by a white savior. Over time, these stereotypes insidiously (or, more scientifically, implicitly) shape our expectations for and perceptions of members of those groups. In class, Dr. Lee gave us this riddle to illustrate the extent to which we have internalized certain prejudices. Its very label as a riddle shows that Americans (myself included) have internalized an image or schema of surgeons as heterosexual males.
Shang Chi, however, rejected traditional stereotypes of Asians (and in fact took care to do so). Instead, this movie depicted its Asian leads as running their own story, with universally relatable characteristics and struggles, and no white savior saving the day. It was a bad-a$$ movie, with bad-a$$ characters, who kicked a$$ — and happened to be Asian. Now, children of all races have an Asian superhero to look up to along with a broader, non-clichéd view of what being Asian can look like.