A recent report from Variety suggests two upcoming Marvel Studios releases, “Eternals” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” could be barred from release in China due to growing nationalist backlash against each comic book tentpole. While there is no hard evidence at this time proving a ban will take place, Variety notes that rumors were ignited after the CCTV6 China Movie Channel aired a list of U.S. release dates for upcoming Marvel films and omitted “Eternals” (Nov. 5) and “Shang-Chi” (Sept. 3), the two MCU titles to be released this year following “Black Widow.”
As Variety notes: “The omission might seem small, but its significance lies in its provenance: the channel is under the jurisdiction of China’s powerful propaganda department, which has the final word on film approvals…All foreign-made films seeking release in Chinese theaters must receive government approval and pass censorship…their omission could be an indication that something about them is troubling Chinese officials.”
Given that “Eternals” filmmaker Chloé Zhao has emerged as persona non grata in China over the last several months, a release ban would not be a complete shock. Backlash against the China-born Zhao exploded after her Golden Globes win for “Nomadland” in late February due to the circulation of two quotes that many perceived as being anti-China. The first quote from a 2013 interview found Zhao discussing her interest in movies about the American heartland and saying, “It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere.” The second quote was a misprint that found Zhao claiming “the U.S. is now my country,” even though she had actually said “the U.S. is not my country.” Regardless, the incorrect quote went viral and added fuel to the nationalist backlash.
In the aftermath of these quotes circulating, “Nomadland” marketing was scrubbed from Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and Douban. After Zhao made history at the Oscars by becoming the first Asian woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, the Chinese media mostly reacted in silence. Deadline reported the day after the Oscars that one of the only stories on Zhao’s Oscar win to appear in China was published in the Global Times and included a line that read, “We hope [Zhao] can become more and more mature.”
As for why “Shang-Chi” could face a release ban, Variety notes the upcoming Marvel film “has been dogged by nationalist complaints for some time.” Much of the backlash against the film has to do with the character Fu Manchu, a villain “seen through the years as an embodiment of the Yellow Peril stereotype” who happens to be Shang-Chi’s father. The movie aimed to distance itself from the character by reimagining Shang-Chi’s father as Wenwu, or “the Mandarin,” where he’s played by Hong Kong acting icon Tony Leung. However, the change hasn’t been enough to quell backlash.
“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 warned back in 2019 (via Variety). “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.”
Variety also reports that lots of backlash against “Shang-Chi” on Weibo has to do with the physical appearance of actors Simu Liu and Awkwafina: “Many online commenters have slammed Liu and Awkwafina for not meeting the typical thin-chinned, high-nosed, pale-skinned, double eye-lidded standards of ideal Chinese beauty. In one of the most toxic arguments of all, many say Marvel cast them in lead roles because the studio ‘discriminates against Chinese people’s appearance.'”
Head over to Variety’s website to read more on the potential China releases of these two Marvel movies. IndieWire has reached out to Disney for further comment.