Marvel is looking to diversify their next slate of movies and television, and though there are new stories from heterogeneity heroes on the way, they may not be approved for release in China.
Variety calls in new reports that two major superhero movies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) and Eternals (2021) could not see themselves on the big screens throughout China. The CCTV6 China Movie Channel recently aired a listing of U.S. movies couples with their release dates but sidestepped announcing anything about two upcoming features from Marvel Studios, despite leaving Black Widow (2021) untouched.
Though the oversight may seem insignificant at a single glance, the lapse may mean more than what meets the eye. CCTV 6 China Movie Channel is under the authority of China's propaganda department, which holds the power to approve films.
There is no free market for cinema in China, and all foreign-made films are to be approved by the government and pass a censorship screening in order to be shown in the People's Republic of China. There has been no hard evidence that either Shang-Chi and Eternals may be banned from the Chinese market, the bypass of publicizing these titles may indicate that there is a red flag raised for Chinese officials.
Both of these Marvel titles share direct ties to China. China-born actor Simu Liu will headline Marvel's first Asian-lead superhero film, joined by two well-known names in China, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Michelle Yeoh. Eternals will be Marvel's first film directed by a woman of color, Oscar winner Chloe Zhao, who was also born in China.
Though both of these films would be assumed to resonate between Chinese audiences and the movies at hand, there have been censorship concerns swelling around the pair. Zhao, who has become unpopular amongst the Chinese government, previously faced the erasure of her Academy Award-winning Nomadland (2020) and may face censorship once more. Zhao was initially celebrated by the Chinese state media after her Golden Globes win, though, by the time that Nomadland took home three Oscars, media coverage was blacked out, and the scheduled release date was canceled without further explanation.
Shang-Chi has sparked discontent, though it remains unclear if there is any correlation between the points being raised and the influence on official authorities. The character Fu Manchu has been seen to be a depiction of the "Yellow Peril." Fu Manchu, who was both a villain and Shang-Chi's father, will be re-written to correct the racial profiling and negative connotations. Now, Fu Manchu will be presented as Wenwu, or 'the Mandarin,' played by Leung. Though these cinematic adjustments have been made, it seems that those in China are either unaware of them, or they are ignoring them.
“Although ‘the Mandarin’ is not the same person as Fu Manchu, it still is under the shadow of ‘Fu Manchu,’” the official Communist Youth League paper China Youth Daily cautioned, this warning, in particular, tracing back to 2019. “Even just the announcement of the characters has caused huge controversy in China. Marvel wants ‘Shang-Chi to earn money from global audiences… [but] faces a big challenge. The film itself will decide whether it will end in tears or laughter.”
On Weibo, the sentiment was redoubled, as users spoke up through the social media platform. “So you change the name and it’s not Fu Manchu anymore? The Mandarin is inherently a character that blackens the image of the Chinese people,” one wrote. “I hope China Film and the [censorship authorities] won’t be bought out by this; this kind of film is not worthy of coming to China to make money off us while calling us fools.”
Leading actors Liu and Awkwafina were slammed by online commenters claiming that they do not meet the typical standards for Chinese beauty, and instead “discriminates against Chinese people’s appearance.” One online spectator remarked that “foreigners just love to deliberately cast Asian actors with squinty eyes! There are many actors in China and Asia with big eyes and prominent features." Criticism has been raised from Chinese-speaking regions, such as Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan, where there has been the greatest backlash to Shang-Chi. On the Taiwan and Hong Kong official Marvel YouTube channels, there have been outward demonstrations of frustration. “It feels like this will be on the same level as the live-action version of ‘Mulan,’” one wrote, expressing their higher expectations for authenticity.
Liu, aware of the poor initial reception of Shang-Chi, thanked fans before stating: “To all those other people who are earnestly hoping we will fail, I have nothing to say to you. Just wait and see.”
Though there's the uncertainty that Shang Chi and Eternals will win their approval of the Chinese viewership, there's no stopping Marvel's next two tentpoles upon their international release elsewhere. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is still set to release on September 3, 2021, followed by Eternals nearly a month later on November 5, 2021.