EXCLUSIVE: Marvel Studios is fast-tracking Shang-Chi to be its first superhero movie tentpole franchise with an Asian protagonist. The studio has set Chinese-American scribe Dave Callaham to write the screenplay, and Deadline hears Marvel is already looking at a number of Asian and Asian-American directors who want to do something as potentially monumental as was accomplished in Marvel’s first viable Best Picture candidate, Black Panther. That film tied into African and African American cultures and the sensibilities of its nearly all-black cast, with a black director in Ryan Coogler and writer in Joe Robert Cole. The goal here is to do a similar thing: introduce a new hero who blends Asian and Asian American themes, crafted by Asian and Asian American filmmakers.

After Marvel Studios’ unparalleled decade of success following Iron Man, many have wondered how Kevin Feige’s next iterations of superhero franchises will distinguish themselves. Clearly an important theme will be ethnic diversity and inclusion, in front of and behind the camera.

Kaplan Perrone

Callaham has strong credentials in the superhero and franchise-building realms and his own experiences as a Chinese-American will inform the Shang-Chi movie mythology, sources said. His recent work includes co-writing with Patty Jenkins and Geoff Johns the upcoming DC Warner Bros sequel Wonder Woman 1984, and he is writing Sony’s animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2. He also wrote initial drafts of Zombieland 2, which begins production in January, and created and produced Amazon’s recent action comedy series Jean-Claude Van Johnson, starring Jean- Claude Van Damme. Callaham also created the Expendables franchise as well as the story for the Legendary’s Godzilla reboot.

He’s got two comedies at Netflix: Callaham wrote the Black List-ed dark comedy caper script Jackpot, which Will Gluck will direct; and he wrote and is producing with Channing Tatum, Phil Lord & Christopher Miller, and Archer’s Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, the animated comedy America: The Motion Picture. Thompson is directing.

Shang-Chi first appeared in Special Marvel Edition #15 in December 1973, hatched by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin. The script will modernize the hero to avoid stereotypes that many comic characters of that era were saddled with. The comic launched around the time that Enter the Dragon became a global sensation and martial arts films raged. In the comics, Shang-Chi is the son of China-based globalist who raised and educated his progeny in his reclusive China compound, closed off to the outside world. The son trained in the martial arts and developed unsurpassed skills. He is eventually introduced to the outside world to do his father’s bidding, and then has to come to grips with the fact his revered father might not be the humanitarian he has claimed to be and is closer to what others call him: The Devil’s Doctor. He also might be centuries old. The deceit makes them bitter enemies.

Marvel Studios has worked with a stable of talented filmmakers from diverse backgrounds including Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, directing next year’s Captain Marvel with Brie Larson; Coogler, directing the Black Panther sequel; Taika Waititi, who directed Thor: Ragnarok; Chloé Zhao, who will direct The Eternals; and Cate Shortland, who will direct a stand-alone film for Marvel staple Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson.

Callaham is represented by UTA, Kaplan Perrone Entertainment, and Gretchen Rush & Dan Fox at Hanson, Jacobson.