Nearly seven years ago, Simu Liu took to Twitter to ask Marvel about the prospect of adding an Asian American hero to its cinematic universe.
On September 3, Marvel will release its first Asian-led film in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” With Liu starring in the titular role, it will be a lifelong dream come true for the Chinese Canadian actor.
Liu is on the cover of the June 2021 issue of Men’s Health, which includes a profile on him that has been shared online. He is the magazine’s second-ever East Asian cover cover model. In the piece, Liu told Men’s Health “It’s always been a part of my life, just that idea of being a superhero.” He grew up as a fan of superheroes and was a comic book reader.
But the article also revealed Shang-Chi isn’t the first time he will have played a Marvel superhero.
In 2014, the same year he tweeted Marvel to ask about an Asian American superhero, Liu was still trying to break into the entertainment industry and make a name for himself. In between television gigs, he would perform as a superhero at kids’ birthday parties, sporting full costumes for a complete experience.
When speaking with Men’s Health, Liu recalled one party where he was working as Spider-Man, even doing a backflip that ended with him in the iconic Spidey pose. But the gig also served as a reminder that he couldn’t actually be Marvel’s web-slinging hero. Peter Parker isn’t Asian, which is why he wasn’t permitted to remove his mask during the party.
“The whole believability would be shattered,” Liu said.
The gig relegated him to performing as only masked heroes. But there was one instance where he had to fill in as Batman, a role where he would have to show his face. Liu shared the story on Twitter in 2019, including a screenshot of a post he wrote in 2017.
During the party, an Asian boy told him “You can’t be Batman! You look like me!” Liu described the encounter as a heartbreaking one and ended the post with a promise of one day bringing an Asian superhero to the screen.
Liu has previously spoken of how his portrayal of Shang-Chi can provide kids with what he didn’t have growing up: on-screen representation.
“That’s really the power of representation: seeing yourself on screen and feeling like you’re a part of this world, which for Asian children who have grown up in the West hasn’t always been the case,” Liu explained to Time 100 Talks.
Playing a superhero and providing that representation, however, isn’t enough for him.
A Real-Life Superhero
Liu has been vocal about the recent rise in Asian hate and anti-Asian violence and discrimination. He recognizes his platform and the influence he has not only as an actor but as one who is playing a superhero.
“Maybe that’s why I loved superhero movies from the very get-go,” Liu told Men’s Health. “They grapple with these big ideas of good versus evil. Once you have power, how are you going to use it?”
Liu, who was born in China and grew up in Canada, may not have superpowers or be a master of kung fu like Shang-Chi. But he is using the power he does have for good and to fight evil.
Earlier this year, Liu wrote a guest column for Variety titled “Anti-Asian Racism Is Very Real.” He is an ambassador for the humanitarian organization UNICEF Canada. He has partnered with Got Milk? and No Kid Hungry to help provide meals to kids in need.
Liu has also been recognized by Gold House as one of 2021’s A100 List Honorees, which “honors the most impactful Asians and Asian American & Pacific Islanders (APIs) in culture.” The honor doesn’t just list him as an actor but also as an author and activist.
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