Simu Liu, the star of the upcoming Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is standing up to the man in charge. Last Friday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke on an investor call about the release of the upcoming film, revealing that it would not be streaming on Disney+. He also called it “an interesting experiment” because the film would have only a 45-day window between theatrical release and the home, a rarity for the company.
But hours later, the latest Marvel hero responded on Twitter took take umbrage at Chapek’s wording. “We are not an experiment,” Liu tweeted. ‘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.” Here’s the tweet in question, complete with some behind-the-scenes photos.
Of course, there’s no guarantee Liu was referring to the quote given by the man who runs the company that funded his big, star-making vehicle. [Update: The actor’s Instagram post actually used the more specific “interesting experiment” quote so...] He almost certainly took exception to the label and had every right to do so. That he responded at all is almost shocking, considering how tight-lipped most (but not all) Disney stars are about anything to do with the company, especially before the release of a franchise film. One that will likely make Liu not just rich, but an international star likely to return in multiple other Marvel films.
But even beyond crossing the typical unspoken line in Hollywood to criticize Chapek’s remark, Liu’s position is understandable—working on a film like Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first Asian-led film in its cinematic universe, to only have it minimized as a mere box office experimentation, can come off as tone-deaf. Even if Chapek was being honest about Shang-Chi explicitly from a business perspective (during the same investor call he also said Shang-Chi’s release was too close for the company to pivot to a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ release as it has with several other movies this year, including Black Widow, due to distribution agreements), he certainly phrased it poorly.
Because make no mistake, this is no mere experiment. It’s Disney’s first major post-pandemic return to exclusive theatrical releases, period. It’s also the first Marvel movie in a few years to star a hero we haven’t seen before in another film, the first Marvel movie with an exclusively Asian and Asian-American cast, and it’s the first new film released since the pandemic to take place after Avengers: Endgame. In a lot of ways, this movie is setting up Shang-Chi as a hero as important to its future as Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were, alongside the other heroes of its “Phase Four,” a gamble unlike few it’s taken since those early days of the MCU. Just look at this brand new TV spot:
The proof is right there. The spot feels the need to link Shang-Chi to the more recognizable characters because, to most fans, he’s a new hero. Plus, Disney is very much struggling with the fluid business models for each of its films. While most of the recent movies have been released simultaneously in theaters and Disney+, that hasn’t always worked out well (see the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit) and even just this week, Disney announced Jungle Cruise, which has not even been out a month, is coming to other digital services besides Disney+ August 31. That means people won’t even need a Disney streaming service to see a new Disney film mere weeks after its release.
And yet, it probably wasn’t the right word to use about such an important film, for so many reasons. Good on Liu for sticking up for his cast and crew. No doubt it might make any potential photo opportunities with the Disney CEO at today’s Shang-Chi premiere in Hollywood a bit awkward, at least. The film, which begins screening for media this week (also in theaters only), opens in theaters only September 3.
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