Marvel Studios' Eternals and Shang-Chi Could Have Issues At Chinese Theaters

Chinese moviegoers are hungry for blockbuster films, but two of Marvel's upcoming movies may not make the cut.

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Two of Marvel's upcoming movies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the Eternals, feature Chinese-born creators in front of and behind the camera. And yet, these two movies may not make it to Chinese theaters if a hint from CCTV6 China Movie Channel ends up being accurate, according to a report from Variety.

CCTV6 aired a list of the United States release dates for all of the upcoming MCU Phase Four films, but Eternals and Shang-Chi were missing despite being the nearest films after Black Widow, which releases July 9. As Variety notes, their absence from the list doesn't guarantee they won't make it over, but the two films are already facing some challenges. These two movies are the first to significantly feature Asian creators; Shang-Chi stars Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, while Eternals was helmed by Academy Award-winning director Chloe Zhao.

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Shang-Chi's major obstacle comes from its history as an older Marvel comic. Shang-Chi first appeared in Marvel comics in 1973, a time when Marvel creators were taking inspiration from Eastern film and culture. Doctor Strange first appeared in 1963, and the Mandarin and Iron Fist a year after Shang-Chi, in 1974. Marvel didn't always handle these characters gracefully. Variety points out that Shang-Chi's father in his original backstory is a character called Fu Manchu, a character long associated with Asian racism and stereotyping. Marvel tweaked Shang-Chi's backstory for his movie, making the Mandarin his father and casting veteran Chinese actor Tony Leung, but Chinese moviegoers appear skeptical.

"So you change the name and it's not Fu Manchu anymore? The Mandarin is inherently a character that blackens the image of the Chinese people," one user wrote on Weibo, China's major social media service.

The situation with the Eternals is a little bit different because there, it's more about the director herself. An article from Time explains that while Zhao was originally lauded in China for her groundbreaking Best Director win at the Golden Globes, comments from Zhao resurfaced, including one where she spoke about growing up in China, describing it as "a place where there are lies everywhere." Chinese state-run publications did not report on Zhao's similarly groundbreaking Oscar win, and a hashtag on Weibo mentioning Zhao was censored, along with mentions of her on other sites and services.

All movies that play in Chinese theaters are approved by the government before they get in front of citizens. For Shang-Chi, the issue seems to be more of a cultural one, but if the committee views the history of the movie's villain as significantly offensive to Chinese culture and history, that may be enough to keep it from seeing release. For Eternals, Zhao herself seems to be the primary obstacle. Releasing a film created by someone the government views as persona nongrata, that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Marvel, could be a huge sticking point. None of this is guaranteed, but Marvel is almost certainly keeping an eye on both of these issues.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings releases on September 3, 2021, followed by the Eternals on November 5.

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