Simu Liu, the first Asian actor to lead a Marvel superhero film, has said he hopes the movie can bring “a sense of pride and empowerment to so many kids that have never felt that” and will help “show the world that we’re not afraid” in the face of anti-Asian hate.
The star, 32, makes history playing the title role in Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, which boasts a majority Asian and Asian-American cast, including Awkwafina, Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh.
Liu told the PA news agency: “It’s a privilege, it’s an honour, it’s overwhelming, it’s all of those things, but there is also a joy that undercuts all of that.
“I think it’s the joy that I try to lean into whenever I start feeling all of those feelings of anxiety and the overwhelming nature of it all.
“It’s just the idea that this movie can bring that sense of pride and empowerment to so many kids that have never felt that, I think it’s truly very exciting, and hopefully is the first of many.”
The film is coming out against the backdrop of a recent spike in attacks against Asian people in America, with activists saying incidents are often linked to rhetoric blaming victims for the spread of Covid-19.
In May President Joe Biden signed legislation that addresses hate crimes throughout the pandemic, with particular emphasis on the increase in violence against Asian-Americans.
Liu said: “I think it can be difficult, in the environment of the Asian hate that we’ve been reading about, for an Asian person who is watching all this happen and unfolding in the world, for them to feel proud of themselves, and to feel like they can be balanced on their two feet walking down the street.
“For myself, I’ve felt most of my life like I’ve had to apologise for my existence, like I have always been anxious taking up space in a room.
“And I think just having the background of all that Asian hate just exacerbates that feeling.
“What I really want this movie to do is to be a celebration and a joy in our culture and our heritage and our language.
“And it’s something to show the world that we’re not afraid, and hopefully it’s to show ourselves not to be afraid either.”
The film’s director Destin Daniel Cretton, whose previous movies include Short Term 12, Just Mercy and The Glass Castle, said the arrival of the first Asian superhero feels “like a long time coming”.
He added: “I’m 42 now.
“And when I was a kid, it was something that I’ve never had.
“I’ve never had a superhero that I could project myself into.
“The closest thing I had was Spider-Man, because he had a mask on so that I can imagine that I was in there.
“And I guess that’s a long time to wait.
“It’s a weird thing, as a filmmaker who is an Asian-American, I grew up in Hawaii surrounded by a very eclectic group of Asian-Americans from all over East Asia, and I didn’t really realise the hole that I had in my childhood until recently, until I was working on this movie.
“It became more and more important to get this right.”
He added: “I have two sons at home now and I definitely had them in mind when we were creating this character.
“They’re too young to watch this movie, but one day, when they do, I wanted to make sure that the themes and what Shang-Chi represents, the struggle that he’s going through, the things he overcomes, the values he ends up holding on to at the end of the movie, that they would all be things that I would hope my son would benefit from.”
Cretton is now hopeful his film will pave the way for more in its wake, saying: “I feel very lucky to be in a time in this industry where people in power like Kevin Feige (the Marvel chief) and this studio are realising that we need to start telling more stories that reflect the world around us and all of the wonderful cultures and faces that are our brothers and sisters.
“I think that this will continue.
“I hope it continues more rapidly than it has in the past.
“Our movie is more scrutinised now but we are number one, the first one through the door, and hopefully that door stays open so there’s two, three, four, five, six… until it’s normal.”
Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is released in UK cinemas on September 3.