Audiences Embrace Black Female Director of ‘Candyman’ and the First Asian-Led Marvel Film, ‘Shang-Chi’ at the Box Office

As America marked Labor Day and the official end of summer, two history-making films brought a one-two punch of diversity to the U.S. box office.

It all started with the Aug. 27 launch of the horror film Candyman, a sequel to the film of the same name released in 1992.

With Candyman’s impressive $22-million opening weekend, Sharon Pruitt-Young of NPR reported that the film’s director, Nia DaCosta, has become the first Black female director to have a number-one movie in the country.

According to Pruitt-Young, “before DaCosta, Ava DuVernay had come the closest to nabbing the top spot, opening at No. 2 in 2018 with A Wrinkle in Time.”

Co-written by Get Out director Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, Candyman stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (who rose to fame in HBO’s Watchmen) as an artist who accidentally brings to life an urban legend in the form of a mass killer called “Candyman.” 

In addition to entertaining audiences with the classic horror movie jumps and scares, the movie also earned an impressive 85% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics lauding the film’s exploration of modern Black lives impacted by gentrification.

“Candyman’s box office success and DaCosta’s historic accomplishment are especially impressive given the current climate,” Pruitt-Young said. “Movie theaters are still recovering, as the pandemic drags on [and after] last year’s lockdowns hit the film industry hard.”

Following Candyman’s turn at the top of the box office, Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings took over on Labor Day weekend.

With a record-breaking $71.4 million — giving it the largest Labor Day debut ever — Shang-Chi is also notable as the first Marvel superhero film ever to be led by a Chinese superhero. 

“I think it’s really cool that the most successful studio in Hollywood has made it one of their greatest goals to continue to tell stories that reflect the ethnic background of their fans,” Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton said in a recent interview with Out’s Raffy Ermac.

In a social media post, Canadian actor Simu Liu, who plays the titular Shang-Chi, encouraged fans of all races to see the film, saying: “We are not an experiment. We are the underdog; the underestimated. We are the ceiling-breakers. We are the celebration of culture and joy that will persevere after an embattled year. We are the surprise.”

Liu’s “experiment” remark was in reference to recent comments made by Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who said the staggered release of Shang-Chi in theaters and then the Disney+ streaming platform was an “interesting experiment.”

With no major films scheduled for release on the weekend of Sept. 10, both films will be battling it out again in just a few days to see which scores a second weekend at the top of box office rankings.


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