Marvel has brought on director Destin Daniel Cretton to helm a film about kung fu master and superhero Shang-Chi. It will be the first Asian-led superhero film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Cretton is known for directing 2013’s Short Term 12 and 2017’s The Glass Castle, and his next film, Just Mercy, is due out next year.
Created by writer Steve Englehart and artist Jim Starlin in the 1970s, Shang-Chi is a Chinese criminal mastermind’s son who became a hero when he learned the truth about his upbringing, and devoted his life and talents to taking down his father’s criminal empire. In comic lore, he’s teamed up with other superhero groups, including the Heroes for Hire, Marvel Knights, X-Men, and the Avengers.
Word broke back in December that the studio was working on an adaptation of the comic, with Chinese-American screenwriter Dave Callaham penning the script. Marvel expressly wanted to bring on an Asian or Asian-American director to helm the film. Deadline noted at the time that Marvel was looking to follow the example set by Ryan Coogler with Black Panther, by ensuring that a film about an Asian protagonist and characters was in the hands of Asian writers and filmmakers.
Part of the goal here would naturally be to steer clear of the issues Marvel has already experienced with its Netflix show Iron Fist, which dipped heavily into Orientalist stereotypesand featured a white protagonist who became the world’s greatest martial artist, or with Doctor Strange, which was accused of whitewashing a central character. Both backlashes created poor optics for Marvel, which was fending off criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to diversify its cast and characters in its cinematic universe.
The Shang-Chi movie is one of the latest hints at the makeup of the post-Avengers: Endgame world, which is shaping up to be the franchise’s most diverse lineup to date. The studio has been understandably quiet about what it has in the pipeline, given the titanic shift that Endgame is likely to bring. Projects in development include a film about Black Widow, with Cate Shortland set to direct, an adaptation of The Eternals (Chloé Zhao is tapped to direct), Guardians of the Galaxy 3, a Black Panther sequel (with Coogler set to return), a Doctor Strange sequel, and Shang-Chi. Given that Disney is also about to finish its acquisition of 21st Century Fox, that may also mean characters such as the Fantastic Four and X-Men could finally join the ranks of the MCU.
None of those films have firm release dates yet — the only one we know for sure is this summer’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, which will kick off Phase Four after Avengers: Endgame this summer. Eight additional films in Phase Four are scheduled for release between 2020 and 2022.
Cretton’s hiring also shows that Marvel is starting to respond to the criticism about the uniformity of the teams on its first 20 films, largely directed by white men and focusing on white male characters. Characters like Black Widow, The Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Gamora, Nebula, and Mantis have been relegated to third-tier hero status at best, and 2019’s Captain Marvel marks the first MCU film fronted by a female character, or with a female director — Anna Boden, who co-directed with Ryan K. Fleck.
The Shang-Chi project is also continuing the studio’s tradition of hiring indie directors like Coogler, James Gunn, and Scott Derrickson to helm its blockbuster films. That tactic hasn’t always paid off — a number of directors, including Patty Jenkins (who went on to direct Wonder Woman) and Edgar Wright, have been brought on to direct MCU movies and have left the projects over “creative differences.” But other indie creators, including Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi, have taken on Marvel projects and made their own stamp on it, something Cretton will have the opportunity to do himself.