Disney isn’t exactly having a great time getting along with their high-profile talent these days, are they? First came the groundbreaking news that Marvel star Scarlett Johansson would be suing the company for breach of contract, stemming from their lack of disclosure involved in making Black Widow available on streaming simultaneously with its theatrical run — despite a clause in her deal stating that Johansson would need to sign off on such a move. Now things are getting even uglier, as Disney finds themselves right in the crosshairs of Shang-Chi star Simu Liu.
Last week, we reported on the movie-centric news and tidbits that came out of a recent Disney investor’s call. Within that story, however, Disney CEO Bob Chapek — already under fire for what many industry people perceive to be an entirely avoidable situation with Johansson — included an unfortunate, tone-deaf turn of phrase when referring to the studio’s plans for the approaching release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. In response to a question referring to why Disney opted against a hybrid theatrical/streaming release plan for Shang-Chi, Chapek decided to use one of the oddest examples of “studio-speak” you’ve ever heard to describe one of Marvel’s very few movies led by and starring a cast predominantly made up of people of color:
“On Shang-Chi, we think it’s going to be an interesting experiment. The prospect of taking a Marvel title to [Disney+] after just 45 days would be an interesting data point.”
To be fair, the qualifier in Chapek’s second sentence clarifies that he’s merely talking about the release of the Marvel movie (rather than the movie/the cast itself) as a performance test run in this unprecedented and volatile moviegoing situation caused by the pandemic. In a way, however, doesn’t that almost make this worse? It’d be naïve to be surprised by such a brazenly profit-oriented mindset by the CEO of one of the most powerful corporations on Earth, but it’s also not that difficult for such a public figure to avoid the impression of reducing an important step forward in inclusiveness and diversity to little more than shareholder’s profit margins.
Simu Liu Fires Back
Actor Simu Liu was among the many who took exception to those poorly-phrased remarks, posting on Twitter, “We are not an experiment. We are the underdog; the underestimated. We are the ceiling-breakers. We are the celebration of culture and joy that will persevere after an embattled year. We are the surprise. I’m fired the f**k up to make history on September 3rd; JOIN US.”
We are the surprise.
I’m fired the f**k up to make history on September 3rd; JOIN US. pic.twitter.com/IcyFzh0KIb
— Simu Liu (???) (@SimuLiu) August 14, 2021
This is the part where I have to gently push back on the implication that Shang-Chi, the latest $200+ million entry in the most popular ongoing franchise on Earth and owned by a singularly powerful conglomerate, is an “underdog” in any sense of the word. On the other hand, there’s no real argument against the idea that Asian-Americans have been constantly abused and mistreated throughout the nation’s history and especially during the pandemic. It’s a success for all when any marginalized demographic is able to enjoy their long-overdue moment in the pop culture sun, as Black Panther and Captain Marvel previously did in the MCU, and that seems to be what Shang-Chi will provide for many viewers as well.
The anger stirred up by Chapek’s comments is understandable and the online conversation it has provoked is a necessary one. One instance of misspeaking isn’t likely to cause a big, drama-filled rift between Simu Liu and his Marvel higher-ups, but it’s sure not a great look for a studio that has had its fair share of public missteps and unforced errors.
Shang-Chi will be dropping in theaters on September 3, 2021.
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