Crimes Against Women in Shang-Chi

Well, we finally watched Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. And we’ve come to an unassailable conclusion:

Kevin Feige is a criminal. 

We’re placing him under citizens’ arrest for crimes against women, namely producing a movie in which major female characters outnumber males 2:1… and failing to hire a single woman to write the screenplay. 

Lord Feige – do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Go straight to movie jail.

Promises, Promises

Not long ago, Feige & other Marvel executives made a commitment to stronger female characters & more representative stories for women. While they’ve kept their word so far with the Disney+ shows, Marvel sputtered with Black Widow and crashed with Shang-Chi

You can check out our Black Widow episode when you get a chance. But for now, we’re focusing on Shang-Chi, a movie that needed a female writer as badly as we all need a vacation.

Shang-Chi proves that the patriarchy is alive and well in Hollywood because one of two things happened during pre-production:

  1. The powers-that-be felt that three men could competently write the stories & arcs of four women, OR
  2. The powers-that-be felt that the film’s four female characters weren’t important enough to hire a female writer.

We’re not sure which scenario is more insulting. 

The end result of this omission is a script devoid of nuance and understanding, with the women treated as nothing more than checkmarks and plot devices. 

Let’s take them one at a time. 

Ying Li – Fala Chen

Fala Chen as Ying Li, mother of Shang-Chi. She is sacrificed to further the men's arcs.
Ying Li

Marvel movies are a lot like episodes of Law & Order. They’re ripped from the comics, but details get tweaked. The writers went further with Shang-Chi, though. In the comics, Shang-Chi’s mother is unknown. In the movie, she is a loving, grounding presence for her two children. 

Until about 20 men brutally murder her.

Seriously?! If this movie was good, we might’ve thought Christopher Nolan directed it. 

To be fair, Marvel has killed off a mom to further male stories before. In Thor: The Dark World, Malekith murders Thor & Loki’s mother, Frigga. Her death is a device to unite the brothers in the fight against the Dark Elves.

Not cool. For more on that debacle, check out our episode on Thor: The Dark World.

However, Frigga’s death is much more palatable in comparison to Ying Li’s. Frigga retained her magic, whereas Ying Li had sacrificed her powers for her family. Frigga’s death occurred during a fair fight; she was not an unarmed woman taking on a gang of thugs.

And just to rub salt in the wound, Ying Li’s death motivates her son, but punishes her daughter, Xialing, for her very existence. Following his wife’s death, Wenwu couldn’t bear to even look at Xialing, a living reminder of his loss. 

Xialing – Meng’er Zhang

Meng'er Zhang as Xialing, sister of Shang-Chi, who is ignored for most of the movie.
Xialing

Little Xialing didn’t fare any better than grown-up Xialing, whom the writers introduce as a Strong Woman with all the subtlety of a chainsaw: 

She can fight – CHECK.

She’s a successful business owner – CHECK.

She doesn’t need a man – CHECK.

Once they checked those boxes, the male writers felt the job was done. And just like dear old Dad, they ignored Xialing for the rest of the movie. 

How they can call themselves writers & miss that irony, we’ll never know.

Xialing is such an afterthought that Wenwu and Ying Nan barely even acknowledge her presence, while Shang-Chi is lauded as the prodigal son returned.  

Ying Nan – Michelle Yeoh

Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan, sister of Ying Li. She is used as a tool to help Shang-Chi on his hero's journey.
Ying Nan

There’s not much to say about Shang-Chi and Xialing’s aunt, Ying Nan. 

And that’s the problem. 

Ying Nan is a means to an end – the conduit by which Shang-Chi gains the tools he needs to complete his heroic journey. A man could have spoken her dialogue with no alterations.

In fact, you may have seen this character played by a man – namely, John C. Reilly in Kong: Skull Island, the movie from which the latter half of Shang-Chi cribs heavily.

Now one could argue that Ying Nan must be a woman because she is a proxy for Ying Li, the means by which Shang-Chi connects to his mother.

But see the problem there, too?

Any way you slice it, Ying Nan is no less disposable than Ying Li and Xialing.

Katy – Awkwafina

Awkwafina as Katy, Shang-Chi's best friend, the woman who is treated most poorly of all.
Katy

Finally, we come to Katy, a character so unbelievable it’s painful. In the same way that Shang-Chi doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be, Awkwafina had no idea what kind of character Katy should be. 

And that’s not her fault. 

Awkwafina did her best with the poor script she was given. The result is a muddled, obnoxious character who gets a hero moment she doesn’t earn. In the end, she’s little more than a bridge between American & Chinese culture – a bridge that is shaky at best. 

Double Standards

That’s not even the greatest offense against Katy and, in effect, the woman portraying her. While Awkwafina is a very attractive woman, she doesn’t have the slim, curvy body of other Marvel actresses like Scarlett Johannson, Brie Larson, or Elizabeth Olsen.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (nor is there anything wrong with being slim & curvy). As someone built much like Awkwafina, I was elated to see a woman with a small bust, no waist, and stubby legs starring in a Marvel movie.

Until I saw what they did to her.

Throughout Shang-Chi, Katy wears little to no makeup. Her clothes are all wrong for her body type, making her look boxy & heavier than she is. 

You wouldn’t catch me in any of her pants if my life depended on it.

One could argue that since Katy is underemployed & living at home, she doesn’t have the money for quality makeup and clothes. That’s fair, but Hollywood has never let pesky details like that get in the way.

Have you seen Monica and Rachel’s apartment?! Rent control, my ass.

The Platonic Problem

Katy and Shang-Chi, who have never had romantic relationship.
Just friends.

Furthermore, Katy’s best friend “Shaun” clearly has no romantic interest in her. Normally, we’d applaud this. We want women to be fully fleshed-out characters, not just love interests for male heroes. But in this case, it feels like Katy (and thus, Awkwafina) is denied the opportunities and validation given to other characters whose bodies conform to a more masculine ideal of femininity. 

And the cherry on top of this shit sundae? The first Asian-American woman to star in a Marvel movie is made to look less than.

But enough of our thoughts – we have a whole podcast for that. How do you feel about Shang-Chi? Comment below or find us on Twitter @MARVELMadames

And subscribe to The Marvelous Madames to hear our full Shang-Chi episode, available Nov. 22 wherever you get your podcasts.

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