Skip to main content

Shang-Chi Director Destin Daniel Cretton On How His Asian American Upbringing Brought Authenticity To The Marvel Movie

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is growing in some new and exciting ways, and 2021 alone is evidence of that. One of the most exciting movies that was added to the MCU canon this year is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The film not only provided audiences with plenty of action, humor and comic book goodness, but it also served as a watershed moment for Asian representation. Director Destin Daniel Cretton was very aware of what his film could mean to certain groups of people, and he recently explained to us how his own Asian American upbringing helped to bring a level of authenticity to the film. 

Destin Daniel Cretton had a major task ahead of him after he signed on for the movie. He had to introduce a classic character to non-comic book-reading audiences and honor the character’s history. Of course, he also wanted to accurately represent the richness of Asian culture. CinemaBlend’s own Law Sharma recently caught up with Cretton to mark the home release of Shang-Chi. During their chat, the Short Term 12 filmmaker reflected on his childhood in Hawaii and revealed that its mixture of cultures played a big role in shaping his cinematic eye: 

I grew up in Hawaii, so diversity is the norm. The intermixing of cultures and ideas , to me, is the most enriching way to live and when it comes to creating a film set, it's the most enriching way to be creative. And particularly with a story like this, it was really important to surround ourselves with, obviously, people who understand the culture of the characters that we have and understand the intricacies of those cultures, of growing up as a Chinese-American living in the Bay Area, of growing up in Mainland China versus Hong Kong.

What the director drives home here is that Asian culture, like others, is not a monolith. Within it, people have different experiences, and this was beautifully portrayed in the Marvel film. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler managed to do something similar when he compared and contrasted the cultures of African and African American people in his own superhero epic. Just as Coogler leaned on Africa and its culture for inspiration both in front of and behind the camera, Destin Daniel Cretton did the same with China when it came to his movie. Cretton continued:

And also understanding how vast China is and how many different cultures there are just within that one country. So we were really, I think, privileged to have so many different people from all over the world working on this movie, who could personally relate to each of these characters and the specificity behind those characters. And for me, one of the biggest parts of this production was having all of these voices on set to say, ‘That food is not what he would have on the table, that music is not correct. If Wenwu is really from this area, he wouldn't have that on the wall.’ So having those types of conversations was really important to this process.

It’s been encouraging to see that the MCU is finally opening the floodgates and bringing in prominent characters from different ethnic backgrounds. When it comes to Asian representation, characters like Gemma Chan’s Sersi from Eternals and Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds from the Spider-Man franchise have been inspiring to see. And of course, Shang-Chi’s Simu Liu is also breaking down barriers and kicking some butt as does it.

At present, Destin Daniel Cretton is set to helm a sequel and tackle a spinoff series for Disney+. He hasn’t said too much in the way of specifics, but he did tell us the one star he would like to cast in the follow-up. The filmmaker simply knocked it out of the park on his first go-around, and it’ll be cool to see how he continues to expand on this rich corner of the cinematic universe. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now available on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD and can also be streamed on Disney+.

Erik Swann

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.