In a new interview with The Independent, Simu Liu discussed his recently released memoir, We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story and how his journey to loving himself made him into the person he is today.
Liu addressed his experience of “the total mindf—” of growing up Asian and male and the media’s tendency to depict men who look like him as “awkward, nerdy and completely undateable.” As a teenager in the early 2000’s, he “both resented and admired [the] white bastion of beauty” that defined hyper-sexualized stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, whose staff were almost exclusively white supermodels-in-training. He ended up working there.
“It’s very embarrassing, but I wanted so badly to be hot,” he laughed. “I wanted so badly to be desired and loved and admired. I had an attention deficiency at home, but also I was probably just a dumb kid who wanted a girlfriend and to be thought of as attractive. I mean, who doesn’t?” Soon after he started work at Abercrombie, he discovered the company had a specific racial quota to fulfill. “And I was part of the quota,” he said. “But at the time I didn’t find it… I mean, I knew it was discriminatory but, like, so was everything else in the world! So was every single movie. It wasn’t like Abercrombie was somehow especially discriminatory. It actually made me feel good to be able to work there.”
The Canadian actor is more confident about his appearance today, saying, “I don’t feel like I’m the hottest man in the world, but what I’m trying to be is a model of self-assuredness. The fun of being topless every once in a while is feeling like… yeah, I worked for this! I deserve to feel good in my skin! And if it happens to shatter a couple of stereotypes along the way, then sure, why not?”
Speaking on who he was before becoming Marvel’s Shang-Chi, Liu revealed that he used to be constantly aware of how he was being perceived. “In my younger years, I was desperate for the admiration of others. Sometimes I would try to say or do things to capture people’s attention, but people would just roll their eyes. It would never work. It’s like being cool in high school. You either have it or you don’t and I most definitely did not. None of the pieces were falling where they should and I hated it. I was a sad kid.”
Elsewhere in his memoir, Liu detailed his harrowing dynamic with his parents for most of the book. The actor was born in Harbin, China, in 1989 and raised by his grandparents. His parents, meanwhile, were studying in Canada, attempting to forge a better life. When Liu joined them in Ontario at the age of four, he was practically a stranger. Their excitement over his arrival rapidly gave way to tired complacency. “I felt like I ceased to be an endless burst of joy and became something that had to be molded, or groomed, for success,” he wrote. His parents described him as an “investment” who was “squandering all [their] effort and money.” They were disappointed by his poor grades in school, as well as his affinity for the arts. Later he’d end up concealing his attempts to kickstart an acting career, and for months pretended that he hadn’t been sacked for frequent tardiness from his high-paying accounting job.
Today, Liu is past all of that, noting that he isn’t the only person who has gone through that experience saying, “Ask any child of any immigrant family if they’ve had a heated argument with their parents that sometimes got physical. That’s the immigrant mentality. That’s the panic that runs through all of our parents’ veins. So when you have a child that is threatening to undo all that you’ve worked hard for, you’d be pretty mad. I’m not trying to make excuses for their actions, but I am trying to contextualize them. My parents aren’t villains.”