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Marvel Calls on Asian Superheroes to Repeat Black Panther Success

The comic book juggernaut is confident audiences want more action stars to look up to.

Liu as Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first Asian lead character.

Liu as Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first Asian lead character.

Source: Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi, a kung fu master with killer abs who gets his big-screen debut on Sept. 3, has a lot of battles to win. Walt Disney Co. is counting on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the latest installment in its record-breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe, to do for Asian actors what Black Panther and Captain Marvel did for their Black- and female-led casts: prove audiences of all kinds will turn out to see heroes who aren’t White dudes. Those films generated more than $1 billion each in global ticket sales, and Black Panther won three Oscars. Shang-Chi’s director, Destin Daniel Cretton, and much of the cast are of Asian descent.

At the same time, the film, playing exclusively in theaters, will test whether Covid-skittish fans will return to cinemas. Studios have been holding back on releases and putting others up simultaneously on their streaming services to promote subscriptions, as Disney did in July with Black Widow. If Shang-Chi does well in theaters, it could prompt a shift in strategy.