Despite the fact that Shang-Chi had virtually no promotion, it shattered box office records, bringing in 247.6 million dollars globally in two weeks with the best second-weekend box office performance of any film during the pandemic. You might even say Shang-Chi saved the film industry with its legendary performance as a pandemic release; Sony moved up the release date for Venom: Let There be Carnage as a result. And yet, it was given one of the lowest budgets of any MCU movie.
Marvel spent around $150 million on Shang-Chi. Especially considering the intricate CGI and special effects – which fell a little flat, perhaps due to the budget? – in the film, this is shockingly low. For comparison, the only Marvel films that cost less than this are Captain America: The First Avenger ($140 million), The Incredible Hulk ($137 million), and Ant Man ($130 million). Phase One (AKA the beginning) of the MCU saw films with similar budgets to Shang-Chi, but in later years the budget grew, with movies like Doctor Strange costing $165 million.
In August of this year, Disney CEO Bob Chapek referred to the film as an “interesting experiment,” suggesting little faith in the film. Simu Liu, who plays the title character, responded responded on Twitter, saying, “We are not an experiment. We are the underdog; the underestimated. We are the celebration of culture and joy that will persevere after an embattled year. We are the surprise. I’m fired the f**k up to make history on September 3rd; JOIN US.”
But it’s no secret that Marvel has a diversity problem. In 2018, 69% of major characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) were white, 19% were Black, and 5% were East Asian (there were too few South Asian, Arab, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Spanish/Hispanic/Latino, and Native American/Alaskan characters to even calculate statistics). This is shocking, because it simply doesn’t reflect how beautifully diverse the real world is – it’s certainly not solely comprised of straight, white men, who make up most of Marvel’s heroes. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which features a Chinese superhero, is a major turning point for the MCU, as it continues its journey in the right direction of telling the stories of characters (albeit ones with superpowers) that aren’t white men.
Before seeing Shang-Chi, while I was extremely excited for the film, I – like many other non-comic MCU fans – didn’t know what to expect in terms of the story. While Black Widow advertisements popped up basically every time I opened TikTok, I had seen next to nothing about Shang-Chi. One TikTok user called out the lack of marketing, saying, “Is it just me or does it seem like the marketing for this movie is just not happening?” Simu Liu himself has led the charge as the film’s top marketer, using his Twitter to spread the word and make jokes about it. For such an incredible – not to mention important – movie, where was all of its promo?
While it’s possible that the missing publicity for Shang-Chi links back to the fact that the release of so many movies (e.g. Black Widow and Cruella) were delayed repeatedly in the past year, the internet thinks that the lack of hype surrounding the movie is due to racism. One TikTok user said, “The fact that Shang-Chi is like the least hyped Marvel movie I’ve ever seen feels racially motivated,” while another fan tweeted, “Why isn’t Shang-Chi getting hyped… It’s literally a Marvel movie coming out next month. The racism is showing they literally did the same with Black Panther.”
While we may never know exactly why the promo for Shang-Chi was essentially nonexistent, we can show Marvel that diversity and inclusion matter to viewers by going to see Shang-Chi in theaters – something that box office record backs up, despite the lack of advertising.