When “Crazy Rich Asians” drew in crazy amounts of money at the box office last summer, it set a very important precedent: there’s a market for Asian-led films, and it’s big. At least one studio took notice of that, because by December last year, Marvel announced that they were “fast-tracking” production on “Shang-Chi,” their first ever Asian superhero film.
We here at NextShark love Marvel movies and, needless to say, that announcement made us fall in love just a little bit more. But even as we try to contain our hype for both “Shang-Chi” and the upcoming “Avengers: Endgame” — the epic culmination to the studio’s decade-long, 22-film superhero extravaganza — we’ll also be the first to point out that Asian representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) currently kind of sucks. “Shang-Chi” will be huge in changing that, obviously, but until then, how many Asian characters can you name off the top of your head? Yeah, we didn’t get that many either.
But that left us wondering — exactly how many are there? In case you’ve ever wondered too, you’re in luck, because we’ve taken the liberty to compile a list of what we think is every single speaking-role played by an Asian actor or actress in the MCU (including the shows, which take place in the same continuity as the movies).
Fun fact: Wong was originally intended to be left out of “Doctor Strange” due to the character’s stereotypical and racially insensitive comic book origins, but was eventually brought back and “completely subverted as a character.”
Mantis (portrayed by Pom Klementieff)
Appears in: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War”
Fun fact: Mantis’ antennae, which aid in her ability to detect others’ emotions, were created via a mix of prosthetics and CGI. Klementieff would sometimes keep the prosthetics in when hanging around set just to “freak people out.”
Ray Nadeem (portrayed by Jay Ali)
Appears in: “Daredevil”
Fun fact: Ray Nadeem, a down-on-his-luck FBI agent who helps Daredevil bring down Wilson Fisk, was an original, non-comic book character created for the show. In an interview with Den of Geek, Ali praised the writers’ decision to include an Indian character without focusing on his “Indian-ness,” saying, “I get a lot of messages from all around the world, which is so lovely, about how nice it is to see a person of color in a role that doesn’t incessantly talk about his ethnicity, his culture or his religion. It’s there, of course, but it’s not the only reason the character exists. […] So much of the credit has to go to [showrunner Erik Oleson], because he fought for this character. He fought for Ray to have this ethnicity, and to be represented in such a fashion in the show. It’s a really special thing that he did.”
Fun fact: The character of Jimmy Woo was first introduced by Atlas Comics (the predecessor to Marvel) in 1956 as a Chinese American FBI agent tasked with bringing down a Yellow Peril-inspired super-villain known as “Yellow Claw.”
Fun fact: Transforming “Crazy Rich Asians” star Gemma Chan into a blue-skinned Kree took four hours during initial make-up tests, although the team eventually got it down to around two and a half, according to The Playlist.
Fun fact: In an interview with Teen Vogue, Bennet revealed that she went through two months of “rigorous stunt training” to prepare herself for the role of Daisy, above and beyond the one week prescribed by the show producers.
Fun fact: Yeoh’s character, who makes a brief cameo appearance in the second “Guardians” flick, is a member of the original Guardians of the Galaxy (known as the Ravagers in the film), a team of heroes who featured in the original 1969 comic book series. In comic lore, Ogord fuses with her husband Stakar Ogord (played by Sylvester Stallone) to form a powerful being named Starhawk. Whether or not this will play out in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” remains to be seen.
Appears in: “Captain America: The First Avenger” & “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” respectively
Fun fact: Principal Morita is an unspecified descendant of Jim Morita, who fought alongside Captain America as a member of the Howling Commandos in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” When Peter Parker enters Principal Morita’s office in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” framed photos of the senior Morita can be seen perched on a cabinet.
Fun fact: Dr. Helen Cho, a genius-level geneticist who unwittingly helped create a body for Ultron, is the mother of Amadeus Cho — the Asian American incarnation of The Incredible Hulk — in the comic books.
Drax (portrayed by Dave Bautista)
Appears in: “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War”
Fun fact: Bautista, who is of half-Filipino descent, broke down in tears after learning that he had gotten the role of Drax. “It was a life-changing thing for me,” the former WWE wrestler said in a press conference in 2014. “It was hard for me to leave behind wrestling but I worked and struggled and worked and struggled and auditioned and auditioned and finally got the dream role of a lifetime.”
Ellen and Vijay Nadeer (portrayed by Parminder Nagra and Manish Dayal, respectively)
Appears in: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Fun fact: Nagra and Dayal portray a brother-sister duo facing an awkward predicament: Ellen Nadeer is a U.S. Senator with an outspoken hatred towards Inhumans, a race of genetically-altered human beings, and her brother, Vijay, just happens to be one.
Fun fact: The self-taped submission Batalon sent in as his audition for “Spider-Man” was his first audition ever. In fact, the Filipino American actor was still an acting student at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts at the time. Speaking to comicbook.com, Batalon described his reaction to receiving the phone call confirming he got the part: “I started crying, I started screaming, I started yelling and running down the sidewalk. All these people are staring at me like whether or not to celebrate or call the police on me. It was crazy as hell. I missed my train but that was the best… I had to wait another 35 minutes but the 35 minutes of waiting for that train, man, let me tell you, pure euphoria.”
Appears in: “Iron Fist,” “The Defenders,” “Luke Cage”
Fun fact: Given the whitewashing controversy surrounding the casting of Finn Jones as the lead of “Iron Fist,” Henwick told Entertainment Weekly that it was a “hard decision” to join the show, and that she was ultimately sold because her character presented a “good opportunity to see a really strong female Asian American.”
Hogun (portrayed by Tadanobu Asano)
Appears in: “Thor,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Thor: Ragnarok”
Fun fact: In an interview with CNN in 2010, Asano revealed that he believes in extrasensory perception, or the idea of a sixth sense. “When I was a teenager, my friends and I were crammed in a car with our knees against the guys sitting next to us,” he recalled. “I tried to call the name of a friend, only in mind, for fun. After I kept calling for a while, he said ‘What? Did you call me?’ I said ‘No, I didn’t,’ wondering whether he really caught my voice in mind. And I became interested in those kind of things.”
Madame Gao (portrayed by Wai Ching Ho)
Appears in: “Daredevil,” “Iron Fist,” “The Defenders”
Fun fact: Madame Gao, the enigmatic leader of the villainous organization known as The Hand, possesses superhuman longevity, as it is revealed in “Iron Hand” that she had been alive since at least the 17th century.
Nico, Amy, Tina and Robert Minoru (portrayed by Lyrica Okano, Amanda Suk, Brittany Ishibashi and James Yaegashi, respectively)
Appears in: “Runaways”
Fun fact: A lesser known property due to its existence outside of the Netflix pantheon of MCU shows, “Runaways” tells the story of a group of teenagers who run away from home after discovering that their parents are part of an evil crime organization known as “The Pride.” Nico, a goth with magical powers, and her sister, Amy, are the children of Tina and Robert Minoru, dark wizards who masquerade as an average middle-class couple.
Dinah Madani (portrayed by Amber Rose Revah)
Appears in: “The Punisher”
Fun fact: In preparation for her role as an Iranian American Homeland Security agent, Revah, who is of mixed Indian and Polish ancestry, actually got in contact with Homeland Security. “I had three brilliant guys there that I asked questions, non-stop, and I got a sense of what she would do, on a daily basis,” Revah told Collider.
Elektra (portrayed by Élodie Yung)
Appears in: “Daredevil,” “The Defenders”
Fun fact: Originally of Greek descent in the comics, the backstory of Daredevil’s iconic love interest was revamped such as to match the heritage of French-Cambodian actress Élodie Yung: Elektra is the adopted — rather than biological — daughter of Greek diplomat Hugo Natchios.
Fun fact: The character of Melinda May was initially listed as “Agent Althea Rice” on the casting sheet. After Wen was chosen, the name was changed to avoid controversy over an Asian actress playing a character named Agent Rice.
Fun fact: Davos, also known as the Steel Serpent, is a classic villain of Iron Fist in the comics. However, when it came to his portrayal on-screen, Dhawan rejected the binary of good and bad, instead choosing to see the nuance in his character. “I never see these characters as villainous or ‘bad,'” he told Square Mile. “If you start playing ‘the villain’, I don’t think it’s as interesting. Each character has clear actions, reasons for behaving, reacting in a certain way. Once I get to the heart of that, that’s when the character becomes exciting to me.”
Jiaying (portrayed by Dichen Lachman)
Appears in: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Fun fact: Lachman was pregnant during the filming of Season 2 of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” making it necessary for the costume department to dress her up in large, baggy clothes.
Nobu Yoshioka (portrayed by Peter Shinkoda)
Appears in: “Daredevil”
Fun fact: Shinkoda was a lifelong Marvel fan before being cast in “Daredevil.” His favorite superhero after Spider-Man? Daredevil, of course.
Murakami (portrayed by Yutaka Takeuchi)
Appears in: “The Defenders”
Fun fact: Murakami, alongside Madame Gao, is one of the five leaders (or “fingers”) of The Hand. Known to be the most reclusive of the leaders, he prefers to operate in the shadows, pulling the strings behind Yoshioka’s antics in “Daredevil.”
Uzman (portrayed by Divian Ladwa)
Appears in: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”
Fun fact: Ladwa made the most of his rather limited screen time in the second “Ant-Man,” playing a vital role in arguably one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Check it out below.
Sinara (portrayed by Florence Faivre)
Appears in: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Fun fact: Much like her fellow Kree on the big screen, Minn-Erva, it took almost four hours to transform the French-Thai actress into the formidable blue supervillain called Sinara.
Mina and Ivan Hess (portrayed by Ally Maki and Tim Kang, respectively)
Appears in: “Cloak & Dagger”
Fun fact: Father-daughter duo Ivan and Mina are both engineers working at Roxxon Corporation, a shady oil conglomerate which plays a central role in Freeform’s “Cloak & Dagger.”
Karnak (portrayed by Ken Leung)
Appears in: “Inhumans”
Fun fact: Karnak is a master strategist and cousin to the king of the Inhumans Royal Family, Black Bolt.
Fun fact: Cindy Moon first appeared in the 2014 comic relaunch of “The Amazing Spider-Man” as a Korean American student who also gets bitten by the radioactive spider that gave Peter his powers, leading her to eventually adopt the alias of Silk. In “Homecoming,” however, she’s simply a decathlon teammate of Peter’s. Regardless of whether or not Marvel Studios plans to follow her strand of comic lore into “Far From Home” and beyond, we can rest assured knowing we’ll be seeing Silk on the big screen one way or another via Sony’s own collection of Marvel superhero properties.
Dr. Wu and Wu Jiaqi (portrayed by Wang Xueqi and Fan Bingbing, respectively)
Appears in: “Iron Man 3” (Chinese release only)
Fun fact: Dr. Wu and Wu Jiaqi were both original characters created solely to pander to the Chinese film market. While Dr. Wu has a small role in the regular release of “Iron Man 3,” Wu Jiaqi appears exclusively in a special Chinese cut of the film, where she’s briefly seen assisting Dr. Wu with his operation on Tony Stark. Needless to say, moviegoers in China weren’t too pleased with what state-run media deemed to be “pointless” additional content.
BONUS: Amadeus Cho (portrayed by Martin Starr)
Appears in: “The Incredible Hulk”
Fun fact: Okay, so Martin Starr obviously isn’t Asian, nor, it would seem at first glance, is the character he played in “The Incredible Hulk” (Starr is referred to simply as “Computer Nerd” in the film credits). However, in the official movie novelization, the computer nerd is identified by name: Amadeus Cho. Created by Korean American writer Greg Pak, Cho debuted as the successor to Bruce Banner in 2015’s “The Totally Awesome Hulk #1.”
Many people might not know this, but NextShark is a small media startup that runs on no outside funding or loans, and with no paywalls or subscription fees, we rely on help from our community and readers like you.
Everything you see today is built by Asians, for Asians to help amplify our voices globally and support each other. However, we still face many difficulties in our industry because of our commitment to accessible and informational Asian news coverage.
We hope you consider making a contribution to NextShark so we can continue to provide you quality journalism that informs, educates, and inspires the Asian community. Even a $1 contribution goes a long way. Thank you for supporting NextShark and our community.