There was a lot of Simu Liu in the headlines yesterday. Here’s how it started – with a Facebook post, ahead of the release of season five of Kim’s Convenience on Netflix, which of course as we all know now is the show’s final season, and not because the series had come to a natural conclusion and not because CBC and Netflix didn’t want to air it anymore either. Here’s what Simu wrote:
If you can’t see it on Facebook, you can read it here:
As some people have pointed out, this is Simu’s perspective and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the whole “truth” of what went down, but there is at least one other member of the cast, Sugith Varughese, who has corroborated his claims, especially about money:
That was my big takeaway from Simu’s post – what he said in point #5 about the cast being “pitted against each other”. This follows a comment about how much the cast was being compensated and it goes back to a discussion that we’ve had often here on the site and on the Show Your Work podcast about pay transparency and communication. A few years ago, when Hollywood celebrities started having regular Time’s Up meetings, Tracee Ellis Ross revealed that actresses were sharing with each other information on their rates and other money matters, so as to help each other with negotiations. This is not applicable only to show business; it’s relatable across industries. How many times have we heard our bosses tell us, “Don’t tell your colleagues about this and that, don’t talk to your colleagues about your raise, etc”. They convinced us for a long time that it would lead to discord, jealousy, but the biggest benefit from that division strategy goes to the people at the top who save money when they’re the ones gatekeeping all the money details. The conditioning, though, is strong. Culturally in the west we are already uncomfortable talking about money – and it’s part of “etiquette” training: the taboo topics are money, religion, sex, politics. If you think about who came up with that etiquette though, it goes all the way back to the white aristocrats, the people who inhabited the upstairs so that the people downstairs wouldn’t know just how much money they were hoarding from those in the basement.
To go back to Simu, though, he makes mention of the infighting among the cast, he writes about his own behaviour, he addresses the fact that he was the cast member who was always looking beyond Kim’s and the subtext here, for some, is that he may have been the one who was thirstier for more – airtime, opportunities, attention. Which implies that, for sure, the way Simu is seen by other Kim’s Convenience cast members and/or writers and producers may be a different story than the one he’s telling.
That said, Simu is now the biggest name to come out of Kim’s. Simu is booked. He’s busy. He’s wrapped on multiple non-Kim’s projects, including a MARVEL project (!) and it was just announced yesterday that he’s been cast in another – which is part two of Simu’s big day:
One True Loves is based on Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book of the same name. It’s about a woman who loses the love of her life in a helicopter accident, falls in love again with someone else, but her husband isn’t dead after all. So Simu’s taking on a role in a romantic movie; it’s not known yet if he’s playing the husband or the new love interest but this is a big deal for an Asian Canadian actor. And extra exciting too that the female lead is Phillipa Soo, also of Asian descent.
My point is… Simu Liu didn’t have to spill all this tea. Like, professionally, what does it do for him? Oftentimes when actors on television series build momentum in their careers, the television series becomes less of a priority. The common route is for them to bounce as soon as they can for bigger things. But Simu is saying that he was invested in Kim’s, that he wanted to stay. That despite the fact that he’s Shang-Chi and that millions of action figures are about to be sold in his likeness, he was committed to Kim’s, committed to playing Jung. And you want your lead actors, who have more power than others, to speak out on issues, right? Simu’s issues may not be reflective of everyone’s issues, but he’s still using his now considerable platform to talk about his experiences behind the scenes, about representation, about inclusion. And the thing is, while many may be pointing to the fact that he is indeed a big deal now and can do it with protection, I don’t know that that’s exactly how it is. Not for actors of colour who already don’t have the same opportunities and if they speak up, they risk being labelled a troublemaker.
Being part of the Marvel universe for sure carries clout. But his movie hasn’t come out yet. Hollywood is just now exiting a year of pandemic pausing. There is reason to be optimistic about the box office but I don’t know that we’re in the clear yet. Also? Marvel doesn’t like mess. You might say that this period, ahead of release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the most delicate, the most critical for Simu Liu. Because you don’t want to risk anything that f-cks with this property that Marvel has poured millions of dollars into and the goal for everyone but especially Simu is that this is the first of many appearances he’ll be making in the MCU as Shang-Chi.
Which brings me to part three of Simu’s big day yesterday – the Avengers Campus unveiling at Disneyland. We’ll have more on the event later but it was a half hour ceremony featuring all kinds of nerdy Marvel sh-t and at the end of the video, as is Marvel tradition, a stinger pops up. If you’ve been around the last decade and more, you know that this is a thing we wait for in an MCU movie or production: what they show in the stinger, after the main storyline has wrapped. And they chose Simu for it. Fast forward to 35:45:
That’s definitely a moment for Simu, with the continuity from the first Avengers movie and all of them going to get shawarma afterwards, and now he’s the one with the wink.
All this to say, you might not agree with what Simu said in his Facebook post, and his facts might be disputed, but in doing so it’s not like it was an only-gain situation for him. And yet, he played it well. He played it on a day where there were two other stories about him lined up to balance out the tea. That is where he does have an advantage right now. That’s what we talk about on Show Your Work when we refer to capital, and spending it. This is how Simu Liu chose to spend his yesterday.