Shang-Chi gave the struggling movie industry a major boost this weekend. The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, opened in movie theaters throughout the U.S. and Canada, raking in an estimated $71.4 million as of Monday morning. That’s already set a record for Labor Day Weekend movie debut, as Good Morning America reported here:
Now, Shang-Chi has a major drawing card. It was the first Hollywood superhero movie featuring male lead of Asian-descent since, well, forever. An Asian American (or Asian Canadian, which is the background of Shang-Chi star Simu Liu) as a male lead in any Hollywood movie has been rarer than cats being elected to public office. So Asian Americans and Asian Canadians may have flocked to the movie as if it were a total solar eclipse. In fact, about 17% of viewers over the weekend were of Asian decent, which is over twice the typical percentage of filmgoers for a Marvel film. So Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings may not be your typical Hollywood film.
The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has already delayed the release of many Hollywood films. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was originally scheduled to come out on February 12. It’s place in Phase 4 of the MCU franchise prevented it from being delayed any further. Thor: Love and Thunder is moving from a November 5, 2021 to a May 6, 2022 release date, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness from May 7, 2021, to March 25, 2022, and Avatar 2 from December 17, 2021, to December 16, 2022. Oh and what seems like the hundredth rendition of The Batman will go from an October 1, 2021, release data to a March 4, 2022, one.
Clearly, Hollywood studios are worried that many people may not be returning to theaters until 2022. Things don’t look super promising for the last four months of 2021. Right now, Covid-19 coronavirus cases are continuing to surge throughout the country. According to the New York Times, the seven-day moving average of new reported Covid-19 cases each day was 161,327 yesterday. That’s over 14 times the 11,133 tally on June 20. For the first time since March, the average Covid-19 deaths per day in U.S. have pushed over the 1,500 mark.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently lists “watch a movie at a theater” as a “Less Safe” indoor activities. Regardless of what kind of ventilation and air filtration system is in place, it may not be enough to overcome the fact that people are sitting close together for a couple of hours. That’s assuming that the ventilation system doesn’t turn the theater into a wind tunnel. Requiring everyone to wear face masks can help. However, theaters may not be able to make sure that theatergoers wear their face masks throughout the film. Moreover, face masks alone can be a bit like telling everyone in a business meeting, “you only have to wear underwear.” Instead, it’s better to have at least two layers of Covid-19 precautions, the more the better.
Ultimately, theaters may have to implement vaccination requirements. Sure, the available Covid-19 vaccines aren’t like full body concrete condoms. You can still get infected and develop Covid-19 even when fully vaccinated, albeit your chances are much lower. But a theater full of fully vaccinated people is certainly going to be a whole lot safer than one with any number of unvaccinated individuals.
Of course, instituting vaccination requirements will exclude the potentially sizeable chunk of people who still refuse to get vaccinated. Those unvaccinated may claim that it’s discrimination and it’s their Constitutional right to watch Paw Patrol: The Movie, while breathing heavily on others. They may yell something about The Deep State or some secret plan to turn everyone into gigantic magnets and 5G devices so that the movies can be streamed through their bodies while keys can stick to their heads.
Nevertheless, theaters must realize that the fully vaccinated may stay away until they can have some kind of guarantee that everyone in the theater is vaccinated. Plus, the consequences of a Covid-19 outbreak can be financially devastating. The answer to “where should we go on Saturday night” is not likely to be “how about the theater that recently had that big Covid-19 outbreak?”
While the Shang-Chi opening may have given theaters some optimism for the coming months, it is important to remember that this was in many ways a historic film and may not represent the new norm. Again, it isn’t every day that a Hollywood film features a male of Asian decent who doesn’t say something like “no more yankie my wankie. The Donger need food!” Moreover, Asian Americans and their allies may be looking for a respite after a year-and-a-half of enduring anti-Asian hate, racism, and ridiculousness like people calling the Covid-19 coronavirus the “kung-flu virus, as I have covered before for Forbes. Imagine how well Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings could have done had this not been in the middle of the pandemic.
No, the rest of 2021 may be quite different from this Labor Day. Especially with the seasons about to change, movie theaters may have to consider changing their scripts.