At first glance, it seems like it could be easy to accidentally miss Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s the 25th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, coming out just two months after Black Widow and two months before Eternals. Meanwhile, Marvel fans are still busy streaming the anthology series What If…? on Disney+, assuming everyone is already caught up with Loki, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and WandaVision, all of which aired just in the past few months. There’s a lot going on here. Not to mention, there’s still a global pandemic happening outside.

But Shang-Chi represents way more than just the next installment on Marvel’s long slate of blockbusters and TV shows. This is the first movie to star Marvel’s first Asian superhero and the first to feature a principally Asian cast, with all-star talent including Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Simu Liu, and Tony Leung, among others. For Asian-Americans, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is an opportunity to see themselves on-screen as more than just a sidekick or comic relief. And, at a time when hate crimes and violence against Asian-Americans are on the rise due to misconceptions related to COVID, this film could be a means to fight ignorance and prejudice.

Shang-Chi director Destin Daniel Cretton understands the culture clash better than most. Born and raised on Maui, the Japanese-American filmmaker (known for his work on acclaimed films, including The Glass Castle with Brie Larson, and Just Mercy with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx) remembers what it was like to go from making films in Hawaii—where there is no majority race and nearly 25% of the population is multi-racial—to California, where Cretton initially felt like an outsider. “Shang-Chi is trying to understand who he is in this world,” says Cretton. “His journey of self-discovery is one I think a lot of people relate to.”

With Shang-Chi pulling in the second-biggest opening during the pandemic, we caught up with Cretton to discuss Marvel’s development process, reimagining controversial characters from the comics, and how Shang-Chi ties up loose ends in the MCU.