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“At the end of production on Season 5, our two co-creators confirmed they were moving on to other projects. … We have come to the difficult conclusion that we cannot deliver another season.”
So started a March 8 Instagram post signed by “the producers” of Kim’s Convenience, a Canadian comedy about a Korean Canadian family running a convenience store. It became a hit after it was picked up by Netflix, ranking in the 85.7th percentile in comedy, according to Parrot Analytics, which measures demand over the past 30 days.
News of the departure of co-creators Ins Choi and Kevin White and the subsequent cancellation isn’t sitting well with star Simu Liu. The actor, who will likely see his profile skyrocket as the title star of Marvel’s first Asian superhero offering in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (out Sept. 3), wasn’t completely ready to ditch the small-screen for franchise superstardom.
He opened up on his reaction to the show’s ending during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss his partnership with the California Milk Processor Board on an initiative with No Kid Hungry to help provide up to 1 million meals to children in need in California. Liu also talked about his career strategy and using his platform to speak out against racism and discrimination amid a wave of anti-Asian violence.
As a UNICEF ambassador, it makes sense you would partner on an initiative like this, but what did you learn about the needs of California children right now?
I have learned that in the wake of the pandemic, we have children staying at home when they ordinarily would be at school and for a lot of children across California, they rely on meals at school. For a lot of them, that is their primary source of food over the course of the day. Compounded with the fact that you have a lot of parents out of work because of the pandemic, you have a situation where over two million children across California are going hungry.
That’s why I’ve decided to partner with the California Milk Processing Board, who are also the creators of the iconic Got Milk? campaign. If you remember those ads with the mustache from all those years back? We’re launching an initiative in conjunction with No Kid Hungry, which helps fund community initiatives like school feeding programs all across the nation in order to deliver up to one million meals to children all across California.
How we’re aiming to do that is through the hashtag #StayStrongTogether. For each post that’s shared, they will donate $1 towards a one million meals goal. Helping children has been one of the things I’ve been looking forward to the most stepping into a role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When you think about superheroes, there’s no more profound impact than in the eyes of a child. We’ve all heard an iteration of the Spider-Man speech, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That speech is lost on me because I was a child when I heard it for the first time and I truly believe it. I believe in the ethos and want to represent that and help in any way that I can.
I do remember those ads and I feel like people are going to remember yours in this campaign —shirtless holding a milk carton. What were the conversations like to get you to take your shirt off?
Look, they didn’t have to push extremely hard. I’ll just say, when they pitched the creative to me, I was like, “Okay, so you want me to appear really, really strong. And then you want me to break an egg with my bicep.” Which by the way I have to say is a lot more difficult than it sounds. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to like crush an egg in your hand, but it’s impossible.
It’s really hard. It’s really tougher than most people think. This is the perfect, lighthearted fun messaging that, first of all, that I’m known for. I don’t want to be known as somebody who takes themself too seriously, but also more than anything, I love entertaining people and making them laugh.
I’m going to take you up on that and try at some point today.
I wanted to go back to that line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Is there a line from Shang-Chi that you think will resonate with audiences?
Why I’m so excited about this movie is that there is not one moment. There are many moments, and there are many characters that you root for and fall in love with. It really is a celebration of Marvel and of superheroes but also of Asian myths. That’s something that we haven’t seen before in a superhero movie.
Representation is truly at its best when you have more than one, when there’s not one movie or one [actor]. It’s been incredibly amazing working with Awkwafina, Ronnie Chieng, legends like Michelle Yeoh and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, who, if you’re not familiar with his work, is Clooney, Pitt, DeNiro all combined into one absolute god of an actor. Audiences are going to be really in for a treat on September 3.
I can only imagine what it’s like preparing for this avalanche to come. How are you strategizing a follow-up project — are you reading scripts now or will you to decide until the movie comes out?
For someone like myself who up until two years ago, was in Canada living a perfectly normal life, I can tell you for sure that I’m still figuring it out as I go. Thankfully I do have a couple of projects in the pipeline. From day one, I’ve always thought of myself as an entrepreneur rather than just an actor. I’ve never been the type of person to wait for an opportunity. I’ve always wanted to self-generate.
Even when I was a struggling actor, I was writing scripts, which were terrible, but I was fueled by a belief that I had to create the door. The right door wasn’t always going to open for me. Sometimes I was going to have to just crash through it or build one where there was no door before.
A couple of days ago you tweeted about the end of Kim’s Convenience and how painful it has been and how you’re still angry. Why is that?
Without airing too much dirty laundry, I do want to say that as far as I can recall in this industry, it is virtually unheard of for a show to be canceled that is doing this well, has been greenlit for a new season and has a network willing to pay for it. To have the producers say, “No, we’re done,” feels like a betrayal in a lot of ways. It feels like the rug was just swept from under us. In the case of a show where maybe the ratings aren’t doing as well, a lot of the people on the crew and the actors would have seen the writing on the wall. But for us, it really came out of left field.
For the showrunners to say that they were moving on, it was always our belief that there were other voices of color that could fill that void and continue to create authentic stories for these characters. Over 65 episodes, the characters of Appa, Umma, Janet and Jung deserved an ending and a reconciliation for that family. What pains me more than anything is that we built a wonderful audience that has been so supportive and so excursive in their praise of the show, and we aren’t able to give them the ending they deserve. It really does suck. That being said, I can still, at the end of the day, feel proud of our accomplishments and our achievement.
Your recent essay in Variety was so moving and powerful. What do you think needs to change to help stop the anti-Asian violence and racist incidents that are sweeping the country?
There needs to be a greater awareness of the discrimination we face. For so long, we, as an entire community, have been kind of gaslit. We were told that we weren’t experiencing racism and discrimination, when in fact we have been. The history of Asian racism and discrimination goes back far beyond the year of COVID-19.
It was happening 150 years ago with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, which barred immigration from China, and was the only piece of legislation in American history that ever discriminated against a single country of people and locked them out. There was the internment of Japanese Americans — and, by the way, Canadians as well — during World War II. Then there were hate crimes like the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 and most recently the murder of six Asian women in Atlanta, Georgia.
As somebody who is Asian, is a part of this community, and is a part of society, you feel like no matter how long you’ve spent in this country that you’re not truly a part of it, as if you’re a perpetual foreigner. It means that there’s really no safe space for us. We feel like we have one foot in each part of the world but are fully in neither. We deserve to belong. We deserve to feel safe where we are. It’s more important than ever to create space for us. It’s important for us as a community to galvanize, to organize and speak up but it’s also important for our allies to share in acknowledging our pain and commit to doing better.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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