VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Like millions of others, Raugi Yu went to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings over the weekend. Watching his daughter see faces that look like hers on the big screen was a powerful experience for the Taiwanese-Canadian actor, who knows first hand why representation matters.
The film smashed the record for Labour Day openings with an estimated $94.4 million in ticket sales. It was also the first Marvel film featuring an Asian lead, and a primarily Asian cast.
“I took my daughter with me, and I was watching them watch the movie, and watching them see their, their face, you know on this 50-foot screen. When I was younger, I didn’t see that, ever. Unless my parents brought me to a Chinese movie theatre in Chinatown,” he says.
“I think it’s a really great step forward in representation. I think it breaks all those old tropes and stereotypes.”
As an actor who has been working in film, theatre, and TV since 1994, he says he’s experienced discrimination first-hand. Too often, his options were limited because so many roles were reserved for white actors.
“I can say I’ve been discriminated against a lot. At the beginning of my career I don’t even know I was, I was really just literally trying to be a white actor, because that’s how I was trained. We were getting going out for parts that were white characters, so we were expected to conform to those characters,” he says.
“The funny thing about discrimination or racism, on the surface, if it’s subtle enough, nobody else can tell what’s happening, but to the person being discriminated against — it’s very clear.”
‘We belong here, we have been here this whole time — and you should see us’
Other times, when the casting call was for someone of Asian descent, Yu says he was asked to deliver the lines in a particularly offensive way.
“They would say, ‘Can you do an accent?’ I was so naive. I was like, ‘What do you mean you mean, like German, or something?’ And they’d be like ‘No, no, an Asian accent.'”
“I would just kind of try one. And then they would laugh. They’ll go oh that’s great, that’s great, really funny. And then sometimes I would book that role and then I would feel really bad about it. But I was young and I had no guidance, so I didn’t know until later.”
Yu says things shifted for him about a decade into his career.
“I started going, ‘Wait a second, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not a white person, I’m Taiwanese, I’m Asian. I should start to really focus on who I am, like for real, and bring myself to these parts,'” he explains.
The industry also started to change, with casting calls touting equal opportunity.
“They used to be really brutal. They would literally say ‘No Asian actors, please. No Black actors, please. This plays in middle America, we only want to see Caucasian actors,” he says, adding that early claims of diversity felt like little more than lip service.
“But you know we got into the rooms eventually and then I started to book parts that maybe traditionally would go to a white actor.”
With Shang Chi, Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, is breaking a major barrier by playing the superhero main character.
“He is doing a really great job representing staying true to his philosophies and continuing to push, in his own way whenever he can, the idea that we belong here, we have been here this whole time, and you should see us, you should endow us with all the things that you endow white actors,” Yu says.
We are not an experiment.
We are the underdog; the underestimated. We are the ceiling-breakers. 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. pic.twitter.com/IcyFzh0KIb
— Simu Liu (刘思慕) (@SimuLiu) August 14, 2021
Liu has been outspoken against the surge in anti-Asian racism amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and spoken about the power of diversity and representation.
“I think the decision, to lean into who I was culturally, came from me doing the opposite thing when I was younger,” Liu said soon after his casting was announced.
“For whatever reason I thought being Asian was something to be ashamed of. I thought it was something that made me different and something that made me looked down upon in some ways, in part because of the way that we were portrayed in media in the past and in part because just like on the playground — you’re bullied for anything that makes you different. So I spent a good part of my life trying to run away from my Asianness, and so a big part of what I do now is trying to get people to embrace it and to stand tall and to feel like they do belong — because they do. We do.”
With files from The Candian Press