TRIGGER WARNINGS: misogyny against Asian women, anti-Black racism, anti-miscegenation, and brief discussions of pedophilia
Marvel made history this year with the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the first major Asian-led superhero film in the U.S. The story follows Xu Shang-Chi, a Chinese American young adult played by the Chinese Canadian actor Simu Liu.
Liu first rose to prominence in his breakout role on Kim’s Convenience (2016-2021), a Korean Canadian sitcom adapted from the play of the same name written by Ins Choi. Kim’s Convenience first premiered on Canadian broadcast network CBC Television in 2016, then gained a massive following worldwide after Netflix distributed it internationally in 2018. The show follows the hijinks of the Kim family, an immigrant Korean Canadian family who own a convenience store in Toronto. Liu played Jung Kim, the disowned son of the Kim family who was gradually making up with his father, Mr. Kim.
The international release of Kim’s Convenience coincided with the explosion of the Facebook group “subtle asian traits,” a group for sharing memes about Asian experiences (mostly in the Western diaspora) founded by Asian Australians. Thanks to this group and other Asian social media spaces, Kim’s Convenience became a hit among Asian diaspora communities around the world.
When Simu Liu himself became an active member of subtle asian traits, also known as “SAT,” he became a community leader-of-sorts when it came to Asian representation in entertainment, as he occasionally shared personal posts about his experiences in the industry. From there, his social media platform grew, and he managed to gain the attention of Marvel Studios, asking them to make him an Asian superhero. In 2019, Liu was officially cast as Xu Shang-Chi, the first Asian American superhero lead of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Despite making it big, Liu seemed to stay true to his roots—he brought the SAT community along through heartfelt updates and photos from behind the scenes, in the time from his casting announcement all the way through the release of Shang-Chi.
As an Asian American pursuing a career in the film industry myself, Liu quickly became a role model of mine. It wasn’t hard to root for him; he genuinely felt like one of us. His personal presence in SAT, where so many of my real-life Asian American friends and I congregated online, plus his loud dedication to Kim’s Convenience even after he was cast as the lead for a Marvel/Disney blockbuster, made him seem genuine and relatable.
However, Liu has also failed to show up for our community before. For example, he called actor Mark Wahlberg out in a 2018 tweet for Wahlberg violently assaulting a Vietnamese man as a teenager (in addition to other attacks on BIPOC). But in late 2020, Liu announced he was joining a project where he would be working alongside Wahlberg and simultaneously deleted his previous tweet about Wahlberg’s violence.
Liu has also made insensitive comments on his social media in the past. In a now-deleted 2012 tweet, Liu compared rapper Nicki Minaj to “a homeless man [yelling] at a pigeon.”
In recent weeks, more has come to light about Liu and his past involvement with “Men’s Right’s Asians,” or MRAsians (a play on “Men’s Rights Activism”), who tend to congregate on an Asian American subreddit that Liu was once a part of.
On September 15th, Slate released a massive article breaking down the subreddit r/aznidentity, which calls itself “A New Era for Asian Americans and Asian Diasporas around the world.” Their description reads:
“The most active Asian-American community on the web. We serve the Asian diaspora living anywhere in the West. We are a Pan Asian community (East, Southeast, South) against all forms of anti-Asianism (anti-Asian racism). The community is about helping Asians make sense out of their own life experiences, find a supportive like-minded community, and live the best possible life. We emphasize our Asian identity, not to be used as pawns by the Right or Left.”
At 44,500 members, r/aznidentity is one of the largest online Asian American communities, and will naturally have a diverse array of voices and opinions. However, as the Slate article highlights, one of the loudest voices allowed a platform in the subreddit are Asian men who criticize Asian women for dating non-Asians—especially Asian women who date white men, referred to as “WMAF” (white male/Asian female) coupling in their posts.
In addition to specific threads linked in the Slate article, it’s not hard to find posts targeting Asian women. For example, this post about “asian blue checks” (Asian women with verified Twitter accounts) alleges that Asian women use white supremacy as an excuse to befriend and date white people.
As a former Asian-Pacific American studies student, I understand where these Asian men’s perspectives are coming from. While Asian women have been fetishized throughout history, Asian men have been perceived as a threat (yellow peril) who would steal jobs and white women from white American men; Asian migrant workers often faced violence because of this, and media went out of its way to portray Asian men as desexualized and undesirable.
While there are necessary conversations to have about how this legacy of racism persists today, especially in racial “dating preferences,” r/aznidentity’s posts tend to target real-life Asian women, rather than the racist hetero-patriarchy that has sought to destroy our families and communities for centuries.
Several Asian women have been doxxed and harassed by members of the subreddit because of these posts, including author Celeste Ng, who has featured multiracial Asian families in her writing and has a multiracial family herself.
Another woman’s experience, Eileen Huang, is detailed in the Slate article. Huang is an undergraduate student at Yale who was relentlessly harassed by men from r/aznidentity after their blog post about anti-Blackness within the Asian American community went viral in May 2020. To this day, a year and a half later, the subreddit continues to post about Huang; just a few weeks ago, one member called Huang “a self-hating racist bigot.”
Huang responded to the attacks by finding out the real-life identities of the people attacking her to directly confront them, which she said left them “just so frightened” without their anonymity. To her surprise, many of them were college-educated professionals working high-paying jobs. Huang responded to the Slate article on Twitter:
Currently, Huang is focusing more on in-person community organizing in response to the current issues in our community, such as anti-Asian violence.
r/aznidentity keeps up with this ongoing crisis as well, with masterposts and threads tracking anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S. However, this has led to anti-Black comments that incorrectly attribute this violence to the Black community more than other groups. One user wrote, “Boba libs literally value black feelings over Asian lives” on a post responding to a Twitter thread (written by “OG boba liberal” Huang) about the effects of increased policing on Black and brown communities as a response to anti-Asian violence. (The term “Boba liberal” refers to Asians with “shallow political ideas.”)
Going beyond Asian women dating non-Asians, some r/aznidentity members will make generalizations about mixed race white Asians (also called “Wasians” or sometimes “hapas” in the Asian community in general, which is erroneous because the term “hapa” belongs specifically to mixed Native Hawaiians). They point to the half-Asian, half-white 22-year-old man responsible for the 2014 Isla Vista killings as an example of what mixed Asians, especially with white fathers and Asian mothers, will likely become, due to an inherent violence they argue exists within white male/Asian female relationships.
Reading these posts when the Slate article first came out was a harmful experience for me, both as an Asian woman and as someone who is mixed white Asian. My family, including my white dad and Asian mom, is unceremoniously normal—aside from the fact that when my mom met my dad at a college party, he was in a rock band in Los Angeles in the early ‘90s (a story for another time).
These posts allege that all relationships between white men and Asian women play into the fetishization and stereotypes of Asian women, but my personal experience couldn’t be farther from that. My Asian mom was the breadwinner of our family while my white dad was the homemaker during my childhood. In recent years, when my Asian grandparents began experiencing tremendous health issues, my dad has always shown up to directly support and assist them, despite living 400 miles away; he even gave a eulogy at my grandpa’s funeral.
Though Asian women tend to marry non-Asians more than Asian men, I grew up with healthy examples of both in my family. White men and white women have both married into my extended family; because of this, as a child, I always thought it was normal to just marry anyone of any race, gender having nothing to do with it. (I even have Asian relatives on my dad’s side of the family, too!)
According to the r/aznidentity Rules, "Unproductive/senseless bashing of other minorities" is not allowed, and “Misogynists, Misandrists, Negativists, those who disrupt the community spirit esp. by being disrespectful are not tolerated.” However, given the volume of these posts targeting Asian women and other people of color, it’s clear these rules aren’t being followed and it’s unclear whether these rules are actually being enforced by moderators.
Though these posts come from a very vocal group within r/aznidentity, the community is large and their posts cover a diverse array of other topics. For example, there is a whole flair (the Reddit tagging system) dedicated to media and entertainment, which is where Liu comes in.
Simu Liu and Reddit
Liu was a member of r/aznidentity before he deleted his Reddit account, but his contributions were scarce from what people could find; his few posts in the group were related to Kim’s Convenience. (There was also an attempt to link Liu to actual incel websites that has since been debunked, but the u/nippedinthebud account on Reddit has been confirmed to be Liu.)
His membership in r/aznidentity first came to light from a Twitter thread by Edward Hong, which mentioned Liu’s own participation in MRAsian subculture.
In a thread following this tweet, Hong describes himself as being “very much an MRA” years ago. Though he calls Liu the “celebrity ringleader of” the MRAsians movement, Hong isn’t looking to “cancel” Liu—he simply wants him to learn and change, along with countless other Asian men. He also wants to uplift the voices of Asian women who have spoken out about their experiences with MRAsians.
Filipino writer Roslyn Talusan contributed to Hong’s thread and pointed to an instance when Liu and his followers pounced on an Asian American podcaster who made a vague tweet about him that did not mention him by name. This tweet was only connected to Liu after an r/aznidentity thread highlighted it.
Talusan also shared her experience of Liu directly messaging her after she talked about him and his treatment of Asian women in a tweet that she didn’t even tag him in.
Talusan also shared anonymous accounts she received about Liu’s behavior in professional settings earlier this year.
After these tweets gained attention, people managed to dig up actual comments and posts from Liu’s deleted Reddit account. Though Liu seemed to only contribute to r/aznidentity for Kim’s Convenience, it’s unclear how much time he could have spent lurking the subreddit otherwise. His response to the Asian American podcaster’s vague tweet after the r/aznidentity thread connected it to him suggests he may have browsed the subreddit more often than his few Kim’s Convenience posts, but it’s impossible to tell.
In other old comments, Liu responded to a post about confidential medical treatment for pedophilia in Germany, wanting to “chime in” with his perspective as an actor who’d played a pedophile role on a show. He compared pedophilia to same-sex attraction and suggested the issue is not so clear-cut because pedophilia is still “legal” in some parts of the world.
From here, the general discussion on Twitter shifted from one within the Asian American community to the wider Marvel fandom dividing into sides, either defending Liu or calling him out. Liu didn’t respond to anything specific in the allegations and criticisms toward him, instead highlighting a past tweet he made about past comments of his no longer reflecting the person he is today.
He then referred to the negativity as “slander” from “trolls and bad faith actors.”
Then he began liking his own past tweets that highlight his advocacy for others.
Going beyond Simu Liu: This Is an Asian American Community Issue
Liu’s response is strangely passive and, frankly, disappointing; if he’s genuinely changed and educated himself, shouldn’t he give us a real response, rather than writing off all criticisms of him as “slander”? At the heart of this entire situation are Asians calling Liu in and challenging him to listen, learn, and do better, for his community. His response thus far has communicated the exact opposite.
Marvel released The Falcon and the Winter Soldier earlier this year, which ended with a long speech from Sam Wilson—the Black man taking up the mantle of Captain America—challenging politicians to do better by marginalized and displaced people. Sam tells people in power to listen to the voices of marginalized people and try to understand their worldview. Liu tweeted his praise for this moment in the episode with the comment, “you can champion a cause without being a complete radical extremist.”
For many BIPOC, this tweet came as insensitive and unrealistic; BIPOC social movements often call for radical and extreme transformation of existing policies and systems, yet Liu uses “radical” here with a very negative connotation. It’s unclear where he stands—does he just want to maintain the status quo, or does he actually want to be an ally to these movements trying to effect radical, transformative change?
When BIPOC tried to call Liu in about his wording and interpretation, he shut down the conversation; he didn’t want to hear or engage with it, which feels especially representative of what’s happening now. His tweet reflects another major issue in the Asian American community—our lack of candid, political conversations and writing off major activism movements as “radical.”
I’ve wanted the best for Liu and his career for years, and I know that a small part of me will never be able to let go of that; he was really important to me. (And as an obnoxious Marvel fan, so are Shang-Chi and its characters.) However, seeing him turn his back on his own community members who have attempted to call him in and educate him for months, before Shang-Chi and the public revelations of his old tweets and Reddit comments, has really hurt.
But much more important than Liu, I believe, is what this situation has revealed about the toxicity within our own community. Hong cautions that many Asian men end up falling into MRAsians ideology, influencing their perception of their female community members—and some will take this as justification to go out of their way to target and harass Asian women.
Now, more than ever, the Asian American community needs to stand together after the year we’ve had. We need to uplift Asian women’s voices. We need to fight both the fetishization of Asian women and the emasculation of Asian men in Western culture and media. We need to hold our community leaders accountable so that when they mess up, they take the chance to actually listen and learn, rather than go on the defensive.
These are the issues tweets like Hong’s sought to highlight, rather than outright cancel Liu or start “Twitter discourse” about stanning celebrities. But once the issue left Asian American Twitter, so did this nuance. Now, Liu will likely never publicly acknowledge his part in these issues and how he wants to change.
I’ve often felt overlooked, unheard, or excluded in the Asian American community as a woman who is LGBTQ+ and biracial. Now, after seeing r/aznidentity, I just feel unsafe—which I know is a privilege that many others before me have not had, especially other LGBTQ+ Asians or non-white mixed Asians (especially Black Asians). We need to make our community safer and more accessible to everyone in it, and we can only do that by facing these issues head-on.
Have you heard of MRAsians before? How do you think our community should move forward in combatting this ideology and building coalitions between Asian men and women? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.
To further learn about the racist history that’s shaped MRAsian ideology and the gendered issues facing the Asian American community:
The Cut | When Asian Women Are Harassed for Marrying Non-Asian Men (by Celeste Ng)
Xīn Shēng 心声 Project (featuring Eileen Huang)
Refinery29 | Shang-Chi Depicts A World Where Asian Women Can Be Human & Heroes (by Roslyn Tulasan)
The Washington Post | ‘Asian, ew gross’: How the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ movie could help change stereotypes about Asian men
Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans by Ronald Takaki
When Half Is Whole: Multiethnic Asian American Identities by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu
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Thank you so much for writing this piece and bringing awareness to this issue, Madison. This is so so important especially after the fame Simu Liu gained from Kim's Convenience and Shang-Chi. We can't turn a blind eye just for the sake of Asian American representation...
So any actual evidence of his “toxic” comments? None. API women complaining isn’t enough. If I say a woman punched me is it automatically true? Also I don’t see any woman that said he directly harassed them. Also I don’t think the subreddit is problematic. It’s so much better the r/Asianamerican where they just self loathe all the time. Having discussions with ppl from both sides is bad now? Stop trying to cancel everyone. This is why no one trusts journalists like you.