Actor Michelle Yeoh can’t confirm rumors that she’s in Sydney filming the forthcoming Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, or what role she may be playing—or even that she’s been cast in the film at all.
“It will come out when the time is right,” she said, laughing, during Tuesday’s TIME100 Talks before covering her mouth with a face mask and “pleading the mask.”
But, she’s happy to talk all about what it means to her that the forthcoming 26th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have a predominantly Asian cast.
“When that [movie] was announced last year and they introduced who they were doing as the Marvel superhero and it was an Asian superhero, it was like, ‘Yes, finally!’ When do we get to be represented like that?” she said.
Shang-Chi would just be the latest barrier-breaking film for Yeoh, whose career has included roles in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, martial arts blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and groundbreaking rom-com Crazy Rich Asians. She told TIME Books Editor Lucy Feldman that the casting of Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, Marvel’s first Asian lead, feels similar to the release of Crazy Rich Asians in terms of cultural impact.
“When Crazy Rich Asians came out, it changed the map. It changed the whole way Asians were represented and seen. We were no longer invisible. We were no longer just a token. We were really represented in a contemporary [way],” she said. “Not just in period pieces or flying across rooftops or something like that, but in a way little girls and little boys look up and go, ‘Oh my god, I can see that’s me up there.’ That is very, very important.”
Tuesday’s TIME100 Talks, which focused on global leadership, also featured 27th Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, African Leadership Group Founder and CEO Fred Swaniker, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres and performance and special message from Red Velvet – IRENE & SEULGI.
Yeoh went on to talk about her own experience in Hollywood, citing her role as Chinese secret agent Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies as a turning point in not only her own career, but also the broader fight against the stereotyping of Asian actors.
“I’m very blessed. I started my career in Hong Kong and I come from Malaysia where I grew up seeing my face being the superhero or the romantic lead or part of real stories on the silver screen, on TV and everything. But once I got to America, I was like, I’m really a minority here and I have no representation,” she said.
“I think the turning point really came when I did the James Bond movie… It was a proud moment because here is a Chinese woman who is standing side-to-side, toe-to-toe with the greatest spy in the world, James Bond. It made such a huge difference in the way we Asians were looked at.”
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, is set to be released on May 7, 2021.
This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.