Michelle Yeoh Gets Real About How Shang-Chi ‘Ninja-Kicked That Glass Ceiling’ And Broke Barriers For Asian Representation In Film

Michelle Yeoh in Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Michelle Yeoh is on a roll as of late, isn’t she? Sure, the actress has been a huge movie star for years, between her roles in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Memoirs of a Geisha and Tomorrow Never Dies, but in the past few years she’s been in more successful movies than ever, including being part of the cast of 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which not only was the first MCU movie led by an Asian cast, but a huge box office hit. While reflecting on her career thus far, Yeoh highlighted the big win Shang-Chi became. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings came out at a time when the pandemic was very much still stunting even major films from pulling big numbers. However, when it hit theaters during Labor Day weekend in 2021, it shattered the box office record for that holiday weekend and went on to become the second highest grossing movie of the year domestically and among The top 10 worldwide. Yeoh said this about Shang-Chi after commenting that the movie "ninja-kicked that glass ceiling to smithereens”: 

We said, 'We are here to stay,' and that's what we need to do now is to keep pushing forwards — not to look back and say, 'Oh, we weren't given [the opportunities].’ How do we make the opportunities now that we know the audience does want to see what we have to offer?

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Simu Liu in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Directed By: Destin Daniel Cretton
Written By: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton and Andrew Lanham
Starring: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Fala Chen, Meng'er Zhang, Wah Yuen, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Yeoh, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le, Stephanie Hsu and Ronny Chieng
Where To Stream: Disney+ subscription

During an interview with People, the actress said the Marvel movie was "a huge leap forward" for Asian representation in Hollywood. Michelle Yeoh shared that she felt the movie’s success was an additional indicator to her that real change had occurred in the industry after coming off Crazy Rich Asians, another widely successful movie featuring an all-Asian cast. The 2018 movie went on to become one of the highest grossing romantic comedies of all time, beating out The Proposal’s spot. 

Over the last few years, Michelle Yeoh has been at the center of numerous projects that have marked steps in the right direction regarding Asian representation as part of mainstream cinema. The same year Shang-Chi hit theaters, a study (via NBC News) found that nearly half of Asian and Pacific Islander roles were created as punchlines in movies while also revealing that over 93 percent of Asian Americans polled felt representation in movies was lacking. 

After Michelle Yeoh’s big roles in Crazy Rich Asians and Shang-Chi, the actress went on to star in the most recognized movie in the 2023 Oscar nominations, with Everything Everywhere All At Once nabbing 11 nominations. Within that, Yeoh has recently become the first Asian actress to earn a nomination in the Best Actress category. We’ll find out during the Oscars on Sunday, March 12 if she takes home the trophy. You can also look forward to Yeoh in the American Born Chinese cast, hitting Disney+ this Spring. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.