“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” Debuts To Critical Acclaim, Breaks Box Office Record

By Annilee Hampton

“Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Marvel’s first film with an Asian lead, was finally released on Sept. 3 after many delays, receiving positive reviews and an incredible box office turnout. 

Leading up to its release date, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” already had an uphill battle to fight. The film was originally scheduled to release on Feb. 12, 2021, which happened to coincide with Chinese New Year. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the film’s release date was shifted to May 7, then to July 9, and finally to its final Sept. 3 release date when “Black Widow” took over the previous date. Unlike “Black Widow,” which was released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access, “Shang-Chi” had a 45-day exclusive theatrical release. 

In August 2021, Disney CEO Bob Chapek stated that the film would remain in theaters despite the rise of the delta variant, saying that it would be an “interesting experiment” for the company to continue to evaluate its release strategy moving forwards. Simu Liu, who plays the titular character, responded to this comment with a Tweet 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. I’m fired the f**k up to make history on September 3rd; JOIN US.”

Liu’s prediction was correct: “Shang-Chi” did in fact make history. The film made $94 million domestically during its opening weekend, surpassing 2007’s “Halloween” to break the box-office record for Labor Day weekend. During its second weekend, its earnings declined by only 2.1 percent. In comparison, “F9,” which was released in June and was also a theatrical exclusive, declined by 43.8% over its second weekend. 

In addition, the film was incredibly successful amongst both critics and audiences, with an audience score of 98% and a critic score of 92% — placing it in the top five for the Marvel Cinematic Universe — on Rotten Tomatoes. The fight scenes and choreography were some of the most praised elements of the film, with Laura Sirikul of Empire calling it the best yet in the MCU and describing it as “hypnotic” and “mesmerizing.” The cast’s performance was also applauded, with Liu as well as Tony Leung being mentioned as standouts. Angie Han from The Hollywood Reporter calls Leung’s Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s grieving father, “a supervillain with a soul,” praising his sincere performance. 

The film has also been acclaimed for its Asian representation. After 23 movies, Shang-Chi is the MCU’s first Asian protagonist. The representation offered in the film has been positively compared to that which “Black Panther” gave Black audiences in 2018 by critics such as Variety’s Peter Debruge. It is notable that “Shang-Chi” begins with a character narrating in subtitled Chinese, with nearly half of the rest of the film being in the same language. It is like nothing Marvel has ever done before, which, in this case, is likely a positive attribute. Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com puts it best when he says, “This movie is not an experiment for Marvel and Disney. It is a promising template for how they can get it right again.”

Kanye West’s Album, Donda, is Released

By: Lily Riesett

On July 23, 2021, rapper Kanye West held a rather out of the ordinary event in honor of his tenth studio album, “Donda.” Named after his late mother who died of plastic surgery complications in 2007, this album has stirred up commotion not just in pop culture news, but across all news categories. 

This excitement began in July of this year, when Kanye announced a listening party for the album at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. This was very different from his “The Life of Pablo” listening and Yeezy Season Three release which was held in Madison Square Garden. While this was presented in the form of a fashion show and was very successful, the listening in Atlanta was definitely out of the ordinary. West spent the evening standing in the middle of the stadium surrounded by fog. He danced and made gestures while his new music played in the background for about an hour before leaving. 

To follow up this strange evening of events, Donda was not released at the time it was announced to be: on July  23at midnight. West’s record label and representatives made no comments on this. A second similar event in Atlanta happened later in July. 

Kanye held a third listening event for his album in Chicago during the end of August. Here, he had a recreation of his childhood home built and set on a hill in the middle of an arena. He had circles of dancers and black cars surrounding the set. West then decided to bring two guests on stage with him, rapper DaBaby and rock musician Marilyn Manson. 

DaBaby has recently come under fire for making homophobic remarks at Lolapalooza where he singled out fans who have been effected by HIV/AIDS. Manson has been accused of sexual abuse and grooming by his partner Evan Rachel Wood. The two publicly became a couple when she was 19 and Manson was 38. Jon Caramanica of the New York Times suggests West chose these guests to show that even those who have sinned can be forgiven. 

After a lengthy amount of anticipation for the album’s release, Donda was dropped on streaming services on Aug. 29, over a month later than it was supposed to be. The album features 27 songs, being over two hours in length. He has many popular artists featured on the album, such as Jay-Z and Lil Baby. West continues using religious themes in this album, talking to and about God in most songs. For example, he raps “God got us, baby, God got the children.” The illusions to God and Christianity can be considered one of the focal points of the album. 

Music fanatic and St. Mary’s student Greta Michels was one of the fans anxiously awaiting the drop of Donda. Michels excitedly exclaimed when asked about the album “ “Off the Grid” is my favorite song!” Michels, like many other Kanye fans, is not a fan of his confusing, problematic actions. She acknowledges “Kanye is problematic, but he makes good music.”

What Is BookTok?

By Charlotte Mayer

Recently, the term “BookTok” has popped up in college conversations, leaving many confused. What exactly is BookTok?

Booktok is an online community of book lovers on the social media platform known as TikTok. People on BookTok create all kinds of book-related content such as reviews, recommendations, hauls, aesthetics and more. These videos can range from a few seconds to three minutes. 

It all started with the increasing popularity of TikTok when COVID-19 quarantine began. Scrolling through the app to ease boredom, people found a new space to share their passions and express their creativity. Quarantine also led a lot of people to pick up new hobbies such as reading. 

BookTok is the place to be if you are trying to decide what to read next. It is full of recommendations, which spread extremely fast. One viral video can send a swarm of people to the bookstore. 

For many authors, this platform has greatly helped their career. Previously unpopular books are finding their way onto Barnes & Noble shelves and into the hands of excited readers who maybe never would have picked them up if it were not for BookTok. 

Author Adam Silvera released a book four years ago called “They Both Die at the End.” According to NBC News, in August of 2020, Silvera’s publisher noticed a significant sales bump, “the start of a trend that would send the book to the top of the New York Times’ young adult paperback monthly bestseller list in April.” He had no idea where the sales spike was coming from until a reader told him they saw it on BookTok. “TikTok videos containing the hashtag #TheyBothDieAtTheEnd have collectively amassed more than 37 million views to date,” says NBC.

A common way to convince viewers to read a book is to explain what trope it may have. Tropes are plot elements or cliches, such as hidden royalty, the “chosen one,” fake dating, love triangle, slow burn, friends to lovers, morally gray villains, grumpy/sunshine, and the much-loved enemies to lovers, also known as hate to love. Book recommendation videos such as “books that made me sob” or “books I couldn’t put down” are another way to reach readers. 

“I think BookTok is really clever,” says Regan Farrar, a sophomore at SMCM. “You think someone is telling a story and then they say ‘read the book to find out more!’”

“I always get sucked in,” she adds. “And then you think ‘oh my gosh, now I have to go buy the book.’” 

An anonymous SMCM sophomore says “I enjoy getting recommendations, however, I feel like some aspects of [BookTok] are problematic because a lot of people on it support authors who are not good people.”

They say that it is “not super diverse in terms of book recommendations or the characters in the books” and feel that these recommendations can become repetitive. “It’s a lot of the same books.” Overall, they think BookTok “needs to be more diverse and more open to criticism about books and authors, but also ‘BookTokers’ themselves.”

Over the past few months, this community has been reaching even more people. In fact, there is now a designated “BookTok” section at Barnes & Noble, as well as “spicy Booktok.” As one can imagine, these are mainly romance books with adult content. 

“On top of book recommendations,” says the Barnes & Noble website, BookTok has “other relatable videos for book lovers like ‘which dress are you wearing to dramatically run through a castle to your lover?’ or ‘the zodiac signs as Hunger Games districts.’”

Some fiction titles made popular by BookTok include “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover, “The Song of Achilles” by Madelline Miller, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid and more. In the YA fantasy section, there is “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi, “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo, and “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black. 

Can’t decide what to read next? Head over to #BookTok.