From Maui to Marvel: Shang-Chi Director, Destin Daniel Cretton – Interview
September 1, 2021, 7:28 PM HST
* Updated September 3, 8:19 AM
Director Destin Daniel Cretton of Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings speaks with Maui Now’s News Director, Wendy Osher as the movie hits theaters on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021.
Cretton was born on Maui and raised in Haʻikū. He describes how his upbringing lent to his eventual path from Maui to Marvel.
“I grew up with my five siblings five minutes from Fukushima Store. I had a pretty typical Maui childhood, playing in the pineapple fields and being outside everyday and going to Hoʻokipa,” said Cretton.
“I found my way to Hollywood in kind of a slow arc. I moved to school in San Diego, went to Point Loma Nazarene University. I took a break after I graduated and worked. That’s when I worked in a group home for at-risk teenagers for two years. After that, I ended up going to film school,” he said.
“Throughout all this time, I was just always fascinated by telling stories through film since I was a little kid. I used to make movies with my brothers and sisters in the back yard with my grandma’s VHS camcorder. It was just a hobby that slowly, over time, turned into a career. Now I’m doing a Marvel movie and I do feel very grateful to be where I am,” said Cretton.
“I honestly think it was the encouragement of my mom and my grandma to be creative. I think my mom got it from my grandma, but there was a lot of encouragement by my family for us to get outside and make skits and plays. When my grandma got her VHS camcorder, she let me borrow it for a weekend. And then that weekend turned into me just keeping it for years,” said Cretton.
“We started making short films and commercials, and really that creativity that my mom was always pushing us to do since we were really little I think got me to be able to be sitting in the director’s chair,” he said.
Taking on the role of director of Marvel Studios’ first film featuring an Asian superhero, came with the responsibility not only accurately portraying traditions and culture, but also ensuring it was a proper reflection of the current times.
“That was our number one goal from the beginning, was to be able to populate the world of this movie with Asian characters who felt like my friends, who felt like people that I know, who reflected the world that we all are operating in. I think a lot of times in the past, Asian characters in at least Western cinema tend to be the butt of jokes or just the side kick or the wise old man,” said Cretton.
“We tried to break all of those stereotypes in this movie, primarily by casting actors who we felt would naturally break those stereotypes and would add a personality and a relatability to these characters. Whether the are our lead, Shang Chi, played by Simu Liu, or our antagonist, Wenwu, played by Tony Leung–I think they both bring a charisma and a surprising personality that anyone can relate to. Even though one is a budding superhero, and the other is technically a villain, I think you’ll be surprised by how much you actually have in common with these characters,” he said.
Aquafina, who plays Katy, Shang-Chi’s oldest friend, was recently honored on Maui at the 2019 Maui Film Festival event in Wailea with the event’s Shining Star award. The award was issued to a film artist who “dares to dream big dreams and delivers brilliantly charismatic and revelatory performances every time that opportunity knocks.”
“I’ve actually never had the joy of meeting Aquafina (or) any of these actors before. We did a general casting call for a lot of the roles through Sarah Finn, our casting director,” said Cretton. “She was actually the first actor we cast in the movie. I just met her at a coffee shop and we had a great conversation about what the story would be and what her character would be and thank goodness she signed on, because she brings so much to this film.”
According to Cretton, the main difference in the Marvel process is that everything happens at once. “Typically, you start to write a script. You jump through the hoops of trying to convince somebody to make it into a movie, and you constantly rewrite it until somebody thinks it’s good enough to ‘green light,’ and then you start shooting that script,” said Cretton.
“A Marvel movie is green lit from its inception of the concept and the idea. So we have all of the resources of the studio. We know when the movie is going to start shooting, before we even start writing the script. So we have to start going. What actually starts to happen, aside from it being pretty stressful at first (because I’ve never worked like that); what starts to happen is a cross pollination of ideas as our other department heads start to sign on to the project,” said Cretton.
“When Sue Chan our production designer came onto the project and started creating worlds and giving us drawings of ideas of what the different sets could be and what the compounds could look like. Those ideas start to then make their way back into the script that we’re constantly writing and revising and everything starts to happen at once, which is kind of a scary part of the process at first, but it actually became quite exhilarating to work like that,” said Cretton.
To view the entire interview, click the video above.