Disney CEO's 'Shang-Chi' Comment Shows He Doesn't Understand Representation

Marvel fans are excited for the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, scheduled to hit theaters this Labor Day weekend. It is the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature an Asian lead character. Actor Simu Liu is proud of his work in the film and looking forward to audiences seeing him and the minority-led cast in action.

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Chapek offended Liu with his offhanded comments regarding the theatrical release of Shang-Chi. Many in the industry can’t help but wonder if the new head of Disney understands representation at all.

Chapek claimed ‘Shang-Chi’ was an ‘interesting experiment’

As the pandemic rages on, films are struggling with attaining box office sales of the pre-COVID era. Blockbuster movies such as Black Widow have gone straight to the Disney+ streaming service, leaving some actors empty-handed with their portion of the ticket revenue.

During a recent Disney Quarter three earnings call, Chapek made an insensitive comment regarding the upcoming release of Shang-Chi. USA Today reported Chapek said the upcoming film was “going to be an interesting experiment,” saying it “will be yet another data point to inform our actions going forward.”

Liu was furious, reaching out to Twitter, saying, “We are not an experiment.” He emphatically stated, “We are the celebration of culture and joy that will persevere after an embattled year.”

According to Entertainment Weekly, the Disney CEO confirmed the new Marvel movie would have a “45-day theatrical window.” It is one of the first films since the pandemic began not to be released in theaters and to Disney+ Premier Access on the same day.

Marvel’s mistakes with casting

Insider reported that when Liu put on the superhero suit for the first time, he became emotional, saying that he almost cried. The Kim’s Convenience star said, “Marvel has never had an Asian lead, so that was such a rare and impactful moment, for me as an actor but also for people who look like me.”

In the past, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made mistakes with its casting. In 2016, fans were outraged when Tilda Swinton, a white woman, portrayed the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. A character is an Asian man in the comics, leaving many to wonder what Disney executives were thinking.

According to Screen Rant, Marvel head Kevin Feige “defended the decision by explaining Swinton’s casting was intended to avoid racist stereotypes that are often baked into older comics.” 

Today, Feige admits to having regrets about the choice of casting. In a Men’s Health interview, he said, “We thought we were being so smart, and so cutting-edge.” He now realizes he could have done better by not casting a white woman in a role meant for an Asian performer.

Why is Disney having such a hard time getting representation right?

Earlier in the year, Chapek told shareholders that Disney stands for universal values such as “respect, decency, integrity, and inclusion.” According to Deadline, he said the company strives to produce content that is “reflective of the rich diversity of the world we live in.”

Since that meeting, the struggling CEO has been embroiled in one controversy after the other. From the firing of The Mandalorian star Gina Carano to the rethinking of theme park rides such as Splash Mountain in Walt Disney World, Chapek has had the challenge of getting representation right. Unfortunately, many believe he just doesn’t understand the concept. 

Iowa State Daily explains that Disney films such as Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and even Peter Pan have “come under fire for characters that promote racist stereotypes.” On Disney+, there is now a warning before these movies that says it “may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

It is clear that Disney has a long way to go before people of all colors, races, and creeds are depicted equally on the big screen. Storylines need to focus on people as human beings and not center around their ethnicity.

Chapek has proved with his comments regarding Shang-Chi that he does not understand the concept of representation in film.

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