Stop Asking Real Filmmakers About Marvel Movies

Guys, we have to stop this. You can’t just interview every famous person in the world, ask them about Marvel movies, then slap it in the headline when they’re anything less than fawning. Quentin Tarantino is the latest name to fall into this trap, following the likes of Ridley Scott, Ethan Hawke, and of course, Martin Scorsese.

Tarantino claimed that the actors are not the movie stars in Marvel movies, but the characters themselves are – a statement as correct as it is mild – and once more the seething crybabies have been out in force. Only this time, those crybabies are a little closer to home.

As well as the usual watch-three-movies-a-year naysayers decrying Tarantino and Scorsese (he said one thing in 2019 and still gets roped in every time), Simu Liu decided to bite back this time. Liu is the relatively unknown actor who plays Shang-Chi, and while his career effectively proves Tarantino’s point about the characters being the stars rather than the actors, he could not resist biting back.

Perhaps Liu could take up this issue with co-star Anthony Mackie, who once claimed the same thing; that Falcon was the star, and not him. Elizabeth Olsen, one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors, has also gotten in hot water for claiming she no longer had time for smaller, intimate projects because of the schedule commitments of the MCU. One hopes the same fate does not befall Florence Pugh or Oscar Isaac. Robert Downey, Jnr. and Chris Evans have both been out of the Marvel machine for a few years now, and neither have scored anything close to a major hit. They seem content with their careers, but there is also a sense that without the cape, they are no longer movie stars, but instead very popular actors.

Liu might even look in the mirror. Shang-Chi is set to be one of Marvel’s most influential characters moving forward, and the film grossed phenomenally. And it did not pull audiences because of Liu himself. With an average sitcom and a handful of low-rent movie appearances to his name, Liu was not a movie star. He was simply a good fit to play the movie star, Shang-Chi. While Asian audiences might have been lured by a true movie star in Tony Leung playing the villain, the reason Shang-Chi grossed so well around the world was because it had the Marvel sticker on it.

In other places, Liu does have a point – but even then, he misses the mark. Liu references the increased diversity on the screen these days, while highlighting that the Golden Age was “white as hell”. While you could argue Marvel’s increased diversity is a cynical attempt to ensure it can sell tickets and toys to every ethnic demographic on Earth, Liu is still correct. Marvel’s major leads are white, Black, Latine, South Asian, and East Asian, and the net is only going to be cast wider. Regardless of the money grubbing intent behind it, Marvel’s movies are diverse.

But Scorsese and Tarantino do not seem to be ideal targets for this criticism. For one thing, the ‘Golden Age’ ended in the ‘50s, 20 years before Scorsese made his breakthrough and 40 years before Tarantino’s. Both directors have also taken clear inspiration from foreign cinema and have attempted to raise the profile of foreign film in the US. Both of them would be far more complementary of In the Mood for Love, Come and See, or Throne of Blood than they would Captain Blippty 3: The Return of Captain Blippity.

It’s true that neither Scorsese nor Tarantino have cast all that diversely in their past. That would be a valid criticism if they were talking about Marvel’s diversity, or even if you were surveying the impact of their legendary careers as a whole. But right now it seems like cheap point scoring. Liu saying that no one besides Marvel would let him star in a $400 million movie is so close to getting it – he is not the movie star. He is simply the costume the real movie star, Shang-Chi, wears. He is paid handsomely for the privilege, but in taking the money he has to understand he waives the right to be indignant when people point it out.

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